Thursday, January 19, 2017

Tracy Ridge, Part 3

With just a few more days left to submit comments, I’m taking another look at the Tracy Ridge Shared Use Trails and Forest Plan Amendment Project Environmental Assessment and making some more comments.  You can find information on how to submit your own comments to the Forest Service at the bottom of this post.

The Overlooks have been over looked
According to the Environmental Assessment:

“In the 1990s, this area was seen as a magnet for day hiking and backpacking.”

Well, what happened?  
Here’s another sentence from the Assessment:

“The 1995 decision also authorized the creation of vista area3 that would provide recreationalist a view of the reservoir.”

Well, as you can see, there is a footnote after the words “vista area.”  What does that footnote say?  It says

Today, the vista areas (as indicated on the maps) do not have views of the reservoir except during  “leaf off.”

Well, that explains why people are not hiking out to the overlooks.  It’s because there are no overlooks.  Or as I call it, the overlooks have been over looked.
Overlooks such as this one on the North Country Trail in Wisconsin need to be maintained
every 2 to 3 years
Overlooks, like anything else needs to be maintained, especially overlooks in the woods that are not rocky outcroppings. The Forest Service needs to send someone down the hill with a chainsaw to clear the overlooks.  This needs to be done every two to 3 years.  Of course, if Tracy Ridge does become a Wilderness, that work will have to be done by people with cross cut saws.  So, if there are no overlooks on trails that are supposed to have overlooks, no wonder the trails are not being use that much.

It is not Clear
Under "Alternative 2 Proposed Action" it reads. 

“Although brought up by commenters, it is not clear how shared use trails in the Tracy Ridge area would disqualify the area for wilderness designation.”   

The key part of that sentence is the part where it says “it is not clear.”  Sounds like the Forest Service doesn’t know for sure.  They go on to mention to say

“There is no evidence that bike use of the area would degrade the trails at all and certainly to the point in which wilderness designation would be improbable.” 

Well, I have BIG NEWS for the Forest Service.  The degrading of the trails is not the issue when it comes to the mountain bikes in the Wilderness.  The issue is that mountain bikers are now the most vocal opponents of any Wilderness Designation.
It’s hard enough to get any Wilderness Area passed by Congress without having vocal opponents.  Just google “mountain biking, wilderness” and you will find dozens of articles on this subject.

Just Google "mountain bikes, Wilderness" and you will find several articles from the past year.

Small Area
Also, we are talking about a very small section of land that mountain bikers are being excluded from.  Tracy Ridge is 9705 acres. In the lower 48 States, Wilderness Areas are only are around 2.7% of the land area.  Currently, the State of Pennsylvania has 9005 acres of Federally Designated Wilderness.  That 9005 acres represents .03% of the land area of the State of Pennsylvania.  That’s right, 3 hundredths of 1 percent of Pennsylvania is Wilderness.   
Pennsylvania ranks low on the list of percentage of land used as Wilderness Areas

Even if all the Wilderness Areas that the Friends of the Allegheny Wilderness are proposing are approved by Congress, that still is .2% of the land area of Pennsylvania.  That’s right, it’s only about 1/5th of 1 percent of the land area.

Schutte Study
Under  "Issue 2- How would the shared use proposal affect the Forest’s ability to provide various trail/recreations" 
It says:
“A study of mountain bikers in Boulder, CO, for example, found that 81% of the riders preferred single track trails for riding (Schutte, 2003)” 

Under “Alternative 2” in that same section, it says 
Also, much of Jakes Rocks Trails will be in close proximity to the road system – the current 10 miles, for example, are all within ¾ mile of a road.  The Tracy Ridge trails, by contrast, provide a much more remote “backcounty” feel.”

Well, did the Forest Service even read the rest of the study they cited by Stacey Schutte?  Here are a few findings from that study which can be found here:

The Study by Stacey Shulte

The Forest Service seems to think that mountain bikers are seeking a remote “backcountry” feel, but in the Schutte Study “solitude” is very low on the scale of being important as a reason for biking.  In fact, 1% of the mountain bikers responding state that Solitude is the main reason they pick a mountain biking trail to ride on.  Nature/Scenery does rank high on the list, but with no vistas at Tracy Ridge, that is also not much of a factor to draw mountain bikers.
From the Schutte Study
Also in the Schutte Study it says that only 8% of mountain bikers enjoy riding on “gentle slopes.”  Since the Forest Service itself has described the trails at Tracy Ridge as having “gentle grades,” well, that means that 92% of mountain bikers will not be attracted to Tracy Ridge
From the Schutte Study

Also, according to that study “Almost 90% of the respondents rate themselves as an intermediate rider or above.”  So, the beginner trails with gentle grades will not be attracting almost 90% of mountain bikers.
From the Schutte Study

And even mountain bikers on their own mountain biking forums don't think that having only 12 miles of trails open to mountain biking will make Tracy Ridge a mountain biking destination

Gigantic, regular poster on's forums

 Trailhead Counters.
According to the Environmental Assessment, a counter was installed at the Morrison Trailhead in the summer of 2016.  It received 1000-1250 visitors a month, this is two times greater than the than the numbers at Tracy Ridge.  Also, according to the Assessment, an estimated 1500 users utilized the Jakes Rock Trailhead in October of 2016 while only 400 users were at the Tracy Ridge Trailhead. 

Well, there’s a big reason for the difference.  According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the traffic count on Hwy 59 is 1400 cars per day.  Highway 59 is the highway where both the Morrison Trail and Jake’s Rock are located. The traffic count for Hwy 321, the Highway that Tracy Ridge is on, is only 100 cars per day. Again, these are Pennsylvania DOT statistics.

Screen Shot from the Pennsylvania DOT's Website showing cars per day.
In other words, the Morrison Trail and the Trails at Jakes Rock are convenient to 1300 more cars a day than Tracy Ridge.  There are 1300 more cars available to stop by and check out those trails, than at Tracy Ridge.  There are 1300 more cars that stopping by Jakes Rock and doing a short ride is not going out of the way.  Meanwhile, going to Tracy Ridge is going out of the way for everyone except the 100 cars a day.

The National Forest System Stewardship Act
On November 28, 2016, President Obama signed the National Forest System Stewardship Act into law.  This Act gives the Forest Service more resources to maintain trails.  That’s just what Tracy Ridge needs.  The Act authorized the use of off-season Forest Service firefighters to maintain trails.  It also gives incentives to volunteers to help maintain trails, including some liability and insurance issues. The Bill is patterned after a 2010 Act that helps National Wildlife Refuges obtain volunteers.  The Forest Service didn’t have a very good overall strategy for obtaining volunteers.  This Act addresses that problem.
A KGWN article about the new National Forest System Stewardship Act
The Allegheny National Forest needs to embrace this new law immediately and use it to get new volunteers.  The Forest Service need more volunteers because of Tracy Ridge and because of all the new miles of mountain biking trails being built at Jake’s Rock.  In a few more years there could be 45 miles of mountain biking specific trails at Jake’s Rock.  They will need all the volunteers they can get.

Jakes Rock
And speaking of the Trails at Jake’s Rock, exactly how do they feel about the mountain biking proposal at Tracy Ridge?  You would think they would be excited for some more mountain biking opportunities in the Allegheny Forest area.  Well, the Trails at Jake’s Rock hasn’t even mentioned Tracy Ridge on their Facebook Page since the recent comment period began.  There are no posts encouraging people to write in comments in favor of mountain biking at Tracy Ridge. 
The Facebook Page for Jakes Rock touts the Allegheny River as the "River of the Year"
They are not coming out against mountain biking at Tracy Ridge, perhaps because they don't want to strain their relationship with the Forest Service, but they don’t appear to be overly enthusiastic for it, either.

There's just a few more days left to comment on the Tracy Ridge Project
For instruction on how to comment on the project, go here:

To read the "Tracy Ridge Shared Use Trails and Forest Plan Ammendment Project Environmental Assessment" go here:

You can discuss this blog at the Preserving the PCT facebook page located here:


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Tracy Ridge Part 2

As promised at the end of Tracy Ridge Part 1, I would be doing a second post about ideas for getting people to hike at Tracy Ridge. I believe that having two loop trails with overlooks of the Allegheny River should be attracting many people to go hiking at Tracy Ridge. During the Fall Colors Season, the parking lot at Tracy Ridge should be full of cars. Here are some ideas to make that happen.

The Map is Crap
Have you looked at the map of the trails at Tracy Ridge? It is a really bad map for hiking. The overlook loops are shown really small, and there is no topography on the map. Also, there is no mileage on the map itself, you have to look at a separate chart for mileage.

View and print the map here:

And I also found a couple mistakes on the Tracy Ridge Map. Plus, the map doesn’t print out very well for the people at home. It is a good overall map for Tracy Ridge, but if the Forest Service wants more people to hike to the overlooks, perhaps they should have a map just for the overlook trails.  Fortunately, there is a Map Illustrator in the house.

That would be me. I have done several map illustrations including 42 maps for “The Guide to the North Country Trail in Minnesota.”  I have created a new map that features the Overlook Trails in Tracy Ridge. 

you can view and print the map here:
Now, I have taken some liberties being the map illustrator. I believe every trail and campsite should have a name. I was unable to find names for the two loops to the overlooks, so I made up names. The names that I called them are the “North Reservoir Overlooks Loop” and the “South Reservoir Overlooks Loop.” The names actually describe why you should hike the trails. It’s because you want to see the overlooks of the Allegheny Reservoir. I feel that the name “South Reservoir Overlooks Loop” is better than calling it the Junction 13 to Junction 15 Trail. It’s nice that the trail junctions are labeled; especially since there are several trail junctions and sometimes there are also clusters of trail junctions. But actually having a name for the trail gives the trail a little more character and can describe the trail. (Update: apparently, there are no overlooks on the overlook trail because they have been allowed to fill in.  The Forest Service needs to go down the hill and clear out the overlooks again.)

Also, according to the North Country Trail map of the area, there is a campsite at the bottom of the Tracy Run Trail near where the Tracy Run Creek goes into the Allegheny Reservoir. I decided to add that campsite to the map and call it the “Tracy Outlet” campsite. And there is a trail that goes between Johnnycake Trail and Tracy Trail up on the plateau. I decided to call that the Cut Across Trail. And the Trail that goes south from Junction 4, I have decided to call the Sugar Bay Connector Trail because it goes in the direction of Sugar Bay.

have a map box at the Trailhead and the Campground
Perhaps the trails already have names that I don’t know about.  If so, I would be happy to revise the map.  If there is other information that is needed on the map, I can make the changes.  Apparently, according to one video I saw on the internet, there is a trail where you have to ford a creek.  If so, I would like to add that information to the map.  Also, I have rounded off the mileage for the trails.  The Forest Service lists the mileage from Junction 10 to Junction 9 as 0.87 miles.  I really don’t think you have to go to so much detail as listing the mileage in hundredths of miles.In that case, .9 miles is more than good enough.
Amerigo Vespucci
 Yes, I have taken some liberties with the map by making up names for places. But that’s the Great American Tradition. We are the United States of America. The name America was created by mapmaker Amerigo Vespucci who called it the latin version of his first name. Fortunately, Amerigo didn’t use his last name or else we’d be known as the Vest Pukers. 

I need the Forest Service to look at the map and let me know what changes are needed. I will make the changes then ask the Forest Service to approve the map.

Group Campsites are needed for Real Groups 
Yes, you can reserve a group campsite at Tracy Ridge. What happens is that you can reserve a camping loop. The loop can have a maximum of 168 people, 42 cars and costs $50 a night. I’ve never seen a Boy Scout Troop with 168 people and 42 cars. Instead, a normal Boy Scout Troop might need a campsite for 15 tents and 5 cars.
You can rent a whole loop for your group at Tracy Ridge
 So, I propose that the Forest Service create such group campsites by combining 3 or 4 regular campsites.  They would have to remove some of the vegetation between those campsites to make it a more open area and have more tent pads.  For individual campsites it’s good to have vegetation between the campsites for some privacy.  But for Group Campsites, a wide open area with clear sight lines is needed so the Scout Leaders can see what’s happening around the campsite. 
My illustration of combining several individual campsites into group campsites.
 And it is perfectly all right to have one or two spaces for an RV to be included with a group campsite.  Sometimes Groups like to have a RV to cook in.  This is the case with the Heritage Chapter of the North Country Trail Association, which I am a member.   

My Sister and her family cooks for the Heritage Chapter using an RV site next to the Group Camp at Copper Falls
 We camp at a Group Campsite that has room for about 12 tents and we park a camper nearby for our cook.  This would work well for family campouts.  Plus, Boy Scout Troops often have Troop Trailers.  A RV pad would work well as a place to park the Troop Trailer.

a Troop Trailer at a campsite
 Again, I would combine 3 or 4 campsites for a group campsite. Since the Tracy Ridge Campground is usually only 10% full, it really wouldn’t matter too much if you combined a few campsites. I would charge around $30 a night for those campsites. This would still be very reasonable for Boy Scout Troops with only 10 people and would be very reasonable for Boy Scout Troops with 30 people. The Forest Service would probably make more money from this than selling a whole loop for $50 because it will get used more often.

These Group Campsites would work well for Boy Scout Troops, Girl Scout Groups, Church Groups, School Groups, Family Campouts and other groups. The reason I mainly refer to Boy Scouts is that I am very familiar with them from being a Scoutmaster for 10 years. I think the group campsites that I am describing definitely would attract Boy Scout Troops. The main reason is because Boy Scouts need to hike. One of the requirements for Second Class is the following:

“Using a compass and map together, take a 5-mile hike (or 10 miles by bike) approved by your adult leader and your parent or guardian.”

Tracy Ridge is the perfect place for a 5 mile hike. All you have to do is hike from the campground, do one of the Reservoir Overlooks loops to and hike back to the Campground, and you have completed over 5 miles.

Hiking Merit Badge
 Also, Hiking Merit Badge is on the list of required Merit Badges for the Eagle Rank.  For Hiking Merit Badge, a Scout must do 5 hikes in the following order:  one 5 mile hike, three 10 mile hikes and one 15 mile hike.  After all those are done the Scout must do a 20 mile hike in one day.  Tracy Ridge is a perfect spot to do some of those hikes.  Plus Boy Scouts need to do Service Projects to complete their Rank Requirements, so, maybe some of the Troops will adopt a section of trail.

Having Group Campsites like I have described is one advantage the Tracy Ridge Campground would have over the Willow Bay Campground, which has no Group campsites.  Boy Scout Troops could always hop in their cars and go down to Willow Bay for swimming.  They don’t mind driving around a little bit if they have an inexpensive place to camp.

If the Forest Service does make some Group Campsites by combining several regular campsites, they should send out a press release to every Boy Scout and Girl Scout Council in the Region. Boy Scout Troops are always looking for new places to camp, so I’m sure many Troops will be headed to Tracy Ridge. Also send out the press releases to all the newspapers in the region.
Bullwinkle and Rocky at Wossamotta U
 And here’s one more idea for the Group Campsites that I am proposing. The Forest Service should allow groups doing trail maintenance to use those campsites for free. Let’s say the Outdoor Club at Wossamotta U wants to come for a weekend to maintain trails. The Forest Service should just let them camp at one of these Group Campsites for free. Wossamotta U is Rocky And Bullwinkle’s Alma Mater, so naturally their students are interested in animals and the environment.

Tracy Ridge Hiking Festival

How about having a Hiking Festival at Tracy Ridge? The Itasca Moraine Chapter of the North Country Trail has been having a hiking fest at Itasca State Park for the last 10 years. It may not be the biggest festival in the world, but it attracts people interested in hiking, and it also garners some news coverage. Check out this story on a TV newscast:

Maybe some organizations like Friends of the Allegheny Wilderness, the Allegheny Chapter of the North Country Trail and the Allegheny National Forest could join together and organize such an event.  I wouldn’t expect it to cost too much to put on because the main activity is guided hikes.  Perhaps, they would need to rent a party tent for presentations, food, etc. You might want to get some porta potties, too, if the party tent is located too far from the Campground Latrines. The groups holding the event could set up their own pop up tents for displays, etc.  

The Heritage Chapter of the North Country Trail has a booth at the Copper Falls Harvest Festival
 Matt Davis, Minnesota Regional Coordinator for the North Country Trail Association wrote in a email to me about their hiking fest.

            “We've had as many as 200 participants over the last 10 years at Itasca but it's never been all at once...meaning they participate in various activities scheduled throughout the day….  Our guided long hikes have drawn anywhere from 20-50 people. We have picked up a few new members from the event and possibly a few volunteers but the biggest goals are 1) promotion of the trail and 2) promotion of the NCTA and what we do.”

Do I think a Tracy Ridge Hiking Fest could attract 200 people? Well, not maybe the first time around, but in future years it could become a tradition with over 200 people. The Hiking Fest at Itasca gets more people because there are lots of people already visiting the park and some wander into the Hiking Fest. The same cannot be said of Tracy Ridge. They hold the Hiking Fest at Itasca in late August. But if Tracy Ridge did a Hiking Fest during the Fall Colors time period, it could be quite popular.
Zach Johns on the Lakeland Television News
Plus, the Tracy Ridge Hiking Fest would be an opportunity to have Tracy Ridge get some coverage in local newspapers and even TV stations.  All you need is an enthusiastic hiker spokesperson like Zach Johns


There probably will be a Tracy Ridge Part 3 eventually
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