The outcome of a groundbreaking effort by the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests to work with trail users to identify and maintain a diverse, quality trail system on the Forests will be unveiled during a weekend of public workshops and meetings beginning January 20th at Unicoi State Park near Helen, Ga. Last year the Forest Service began the Collaborative Trails Initiative, or “CoTrails,” by bringing together trail users to address shared concerns. The result is a five part strategic plan that the Forest Service and CoTrails volunteers are now ready to start implementing.
“The influence of this effort will be far-reaching, benefitting not just trail users by offering a more satisfying recreation experience, but also by protecting watersheds, improving forest health, and contributing to local and regional economies that depend on forest-related recreation,” says Forest Supervisor George Bain. “This collaborative effort has the potential to have a lasting impact on quality of life for generations to come.”
The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests receive 2.2 million visitors each year, and the primary activity is use of the national forests’ 850 miles of designated system trails. Hikers are not the only ones who take advantage of the recreation opportunities that the trails provide. Cyclists, hunters, anglers, off-highway vehicle enthusiasts and horseback riders all recreate on national forest trails. Collaboration with all trail users offers the opportunity to address management challenges of increasing public demand and use, limited agency resources for maintenance, and potential competition between recreation users.
Beginning in 2011 the Forest Service hosted a series of meetings in communities surrounding the national forests to find out how all trail users could work together and with the Forest Service to help create a diverse, quality trail system that is maintainable and minimizes environmental impacts. More than 350 people attended those meetings, and a core group of forty plus volunteers coalesced to see the effort through the planning stage.
“Now we’re ready to begin the real work implementing the plan,” said Carlos Martel, a horseback rider and volunteer member of the CoTrails Working Group who helped author the plan. “We need everyone who uses and cares about recreational trails on the national forests to join this effort and volunteer to make our national forest trail system the best it can be.”
The CoTrails Strategic Plan outlines five objectives that include engaging volunteers, inventorying and assessing existing trails, creating a forest-wide interactive online map of the trail system, and identifying unauthorized trails and opportunities to incorporate new system trails on the national forests.
The weekend of CoTrails activities begins on Friday, January 20th at 6 p.m. with the CoTrails Strategic Plan launch and general meeting followed by a social hour. This meeting is open to anyone interested in supporting and becoming active in the implementation of the CoTrails Strategic Plan. Volunteer project teams will be formed to work on specific plan objectives.
A Saturday morning kick-off begins at 9 a.m. and will include presentations from the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, CoTrails volunteers, and Applied Trails Research, with the goal of providing an introduction to a trails assessment process that will be occurring on the national forests. Following the kick-off, one of the most popular and sought after trails training opportunities, “The Art and Science of Trails,” will be offered free to anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the science behind creating successful trails. This two day training includes a Saturday indoor class and a Sunday field session conducted at nearby trails. Workshop pre-registration is required, and capacity is limited.
Anyone interested in participating in these activities should contact John Campbell by email. Read the CoTrails Strategic Plan. You can find more information on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests’ website.