On Tuesday, April 24 at 5 p.m. in the Payson High School auditorium, the U.S. Forest Service will hold a public open house regarding proposed changes in its land-use policies for all of northern Arizona's national forest lands.
One change that is being proposed is for the Forest Service to adopt a "closed unless posted as open" policy for controlling access to forest roads by motorized vehicles. This seemingly simple proposed change in policy has created a great deal of concern among folks who enjoy traveling on the back roads of our national forests utilizing various types of motorized transportation.
Under the current policies, any road on national forest lands is considered to be open, unless it is posted as closed. This means that there are hundreds of miles of roadways in northern Arizona available for exploration by four-wheel-drive vehicles, motorcycles, and ATVs. If there is a valid reason for the Forest Service to close a road, they may do so at their discretion by posting the appropriate signs. If the proposed "closed unless posted as open" policy were to be adopted, many of these roads would suddenly become off-limits for most recreational users ... and it is feared that local Forest Service ranger districts, who don't have the funding and staff to enforce even the current rules, would simply never get around to posting the "Road Open" signs on many backroads, creating large new de facto wilderness areas open only to hikers and horseback riders.
Throughout Arizona, and in the Payson area particularly, a large percentage of motorized recreational users are folks of retirement age, whose physical condition prevents them from strenuous hiking. For them, for the physically handicapped, or for the very young, the only practical method of getting out in the backcountry is by riding in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Granted, there are problems on national forest lands. Illegal dumping and woodcutting, and the irresponsible actions of some campers, off-roaders, motorcyclists,and ATVers has caused significant damage in places. But the answer is not to make potential criminals out of anyone who wants to take a little side road on a sunny afternoon for the simple joy of seeing where it leads.
If you like to get out in the backcountry, and if you are concerned with what the Forest Service is proposing, be at this meeting and let them know politely, please what your opinion is. The future of all of our open access to forest lands may be at stake.
Signed Rim Country 4-Wheelers Club members Bill Berggren, vice president
Charlie Conover, adopt-a-road chairman
Chuck Jacobs, bewsletter editor