Still miles to go before WRNF travel plan sleeps |

Still miles to go before WRNF travel plan sleeps

The effort to update the White River National Forest’s travel management plan still has a long road to go.

The U.S. Forest Service held several public meetings and sought initial comments on the matter last fall, but it will be another year before the agency issues its draft plan, and a final plan will come out in late 2004 at the earliest.

“It’s a long process,” said Wendy Haskins, WRNF travel planner.

The travel plan will designate what areas are open, restricted or closed to various forms of travel in summer and winter, and set specific road and trail uses.

It also will decide the fate of more than 500 miles of existing roads and trails not officially listed in the forest travel system. These may have been built for a one-time use and never properly closed, or be the result of motorists repeatedly going off-road or off-trail.

Public concerns raised last fall over the travel plan include the feeling that some terrain to be set aside for nonmotorized recreation is too steep, to a fear that more places would be declared off-limits to motorized uses.

The Forest Service estimates that more than 1,000 people commented regarding travel management, including 580 who submitted letters, said Haskins.

That’s more than she expected.

“But I’m glad people are interested and involved. It helps us at this stage to hopefully incorporate a lot of what the public’s thinking so we can come out with a good draft.”

The comments are being processed by the Forest Service’s Content Analysis Team in Salt Lake City. The team sorts the comments and puts them into databases, identifying key issues and site-specific recommendations.

The team’s work should be done by early March. Then the Forest Service can formulate travel management alternatives, with an eye to key issues.

Another public comment period will be held once a preferred draft alternative is named.

But people are welcome to remain involved in the meantime, Haskins said. She encouraged them to voice their opinions with district offices as officials map the draft alternatives.

Haskins said the Forest Service plans to mail newsletters to those who have participated in the planning process. Efforts also are in the works to post a travel management planning Web site.

There’s no legally required time frame for getting the plan revised.

“We’re working as fast as we can, but as accurately as we can,” said Haskins.

Like other federal agencies, the Forest Service has been working without a budget, because Congress has yet to send one to President Bush for approval. But so far, Haskins said, she hasn’t been told to alter her work on the travel management update for budgetary reasons.

“I’m going to keep working till someone says otherwise, and even then I’m going to keep working because I want to get it done,” she said with a laugh.

Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516

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