The USDA Forest Service is beginning a study of the road system in the Chattahoochee National Forest, and wants to know which national forest roads are important to visitors and why. Anyone may provide comments now through April 13.
“The Forest Service is committed to balancing the needs for public access to the Chattahoochee National Forest with our responsibility to sustain a productive, diverse and healthy national forest,” said Forest Supervisor George Bain. “As part of this commitment, we must address crucial concerns about the future sustainability of the national forest road system.”
The three Ranger Districts that make up the Chattahoochee National Forest are scheduled to complete transportation studies this year. A study on the Oconee Ranger District was completed last year. This is a nationwide initiative, with all national forests completing studies by 2015. The transportation studies identify roads needed for safe and efficient travel and for the protection, management, and use of national forests. At the same time, the studies offer an opportunity to identify roads that are no longer needed.
According to Forest Service officials, the number of overdue road maintenance projects continues to grow, while a greater number of visitors are using the road system. Roads that cannot be adequately maintained can be dangerous to visitors and threaten forest health. They can increase sedimentation into rivers and streams, degrading water quality and impacting fish and wildlife.
“The study will help us prioritize our limited resources,” said Bain. “It will lead us to finding better ways to manage our roads for visitors while protecting sources of clean water.”
Nearly everyone who uses the national forest will be affected by possible future road management decisions, making it important to work together today to identify a sustainable road system. Some possible options that may be considered in the transportation study include maintaining individual roads at current standards; changing the level of access from passenger cars to high clearance vehicles; adding new or greater seasonal restrictions; changing management jurisdiction; implementing year-long closures; or removing some roads entirely.
The Forest Service will analyze the level of access needed to efficiently manage a healthy forest. Desires of the public, potential risks to visitor safety and forest health, and agency road maintenance costs will be among other important considerations. The transportation study is not a proposal or decision, but it is intended to help with road management planning. Before any future actions are taken, the Forest Service will provide additional opportunities for the public to participate in the decision making process.
Anyone may view maps of roads on the national forest and provide input through an online comment form on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests website. Hardcopy planning maps and comment forms are also available for review at the Ranger District offices and the Forest Supervisor’s office.