In its new draft work plans for state forests, the Ohio Division of Forestry for now has scrapped plans to develop all-purpose vehicle (APV) trails in the Division’s District 4, which includes state forests in Vinton and Athens counties.
The decision apparently came at least partly as a result of heavy pushback last year from people, most of who live in and around Zaleski State Forest in Vinton and western Athens counties. Vinton Furnace State Forest in Vinton County and Shawnee State Forest, farther to the southwest, also are no longer being considered for new APV trails.
Eric Heis, public information officer for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the forestry division, acknowledged Wednesday that the change of course – essentially deciding to expand APV opportunities where they already exist, rather than placing trails in state forests that don’t have them – partly resulted from feedback on the original proposal involving Zaleski and the other two southern Ohio state forests.
“The APV expansion proposal generated a lot of feedback, both positive and negative,” he said. “The Ohio Division of Forestry felt that given the divisiveness of the proposal, that it was prudent to reevaluate our plans and work toward goals that currently have a broader consensus.”
The opposition crystallized in a meeting Oct. 3, 2018, at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry office in Athens, when 10 concerned citizens from the Zaleski area met with officials to register their opposition to proposed new APV (also known as ATV) trails in Zaleski State Forest.
Their main concern was that noise and other negative aspects of an onslaught of APV riders in Zaleski forest would discourage other types of outdoor recreation that depend on solitude and quiet. However, some residents of Carbondale, in far western Athens County, also objected to their community being the site of a trailhead for the proposed Zaleski APV trails.
The draft 2018-2019 forest work plan for the Division of Forestry’s District 4 stated that while the only current APV area in District 4 is located in Perry State Forest (with 16 miles of trails), the plan proposed the creation of the new APV areas in Zaleski, Vinton Furnace and Shawnee state forests.
On July 31, the Division of Forestry held its annual open house for District 4, and reviewed its new 2019-20 draft work plan for that district. The new plan states that while “the Division will continue to gain feedback on these APV trail proposals (Zaleski, etc.), the Division has decided to focus APV expansion efforts at the existing APV areas and new stand-alone acquisitions for the addition of any future APV areas. During this planning cycle, there will be no additional work regarding the prior proposals.”
Some opponents of APV trails in Zaleski State Forest said they felt that their opposition helped persuade the state to change course on the issue.
Rick Rozzo, a critic of the proposed APV trails in Zaleski State Forest, said when he heard about the proposal last year he “reached out to family members that have visited the area and love it for its feeling of remoteness and quiet.
“They all informed me they sent letters to ODNR voicing their opposition to the proposal,” he said. “With their efforts, our groups efforts, the public voicing opposition to this proposal…”
Rozzo is a property owner in the Zaleski area who is credited with “spearheading” the opposition to APV trails and passing out opposition signs.
In an email Monday evening, two other opponents of the APV trails in Zaleski State Forest also applauded the Division of Forestry’s decision. “I do not know if anything that we did affected the outcome but I am sure that some people now know that if they try this again, there will be resistance,” Steve Steed said in the email from him and Tammy Steed. The couple owns property in Zaleski State Forest near Lake Hope State Park.
Another opponent of the APV trails emailed The Athens NEWS Tuesday morning. Louis Troll, who owns cabins on 148 acres adjoining Zaleski State Forest, said the cabin experience on his property would be “drastically degraded if the proposed APV trails are ever built there. The noise and pollution from APV trails are incompatible with box turtles, newts, salamanders, flying squirrels; rare gray foxes, minks, beavers, and thousands of swallowtail butterflies that land on the roads and trails,” Troll wrote. “Wildlife cannot coexist with roaring engines and speeding APVs.”
Since hearing that the Division of Forestry has temporarily shelved plans for APV trails in Zaleski and Vinton Furnace state forests, Troll said, “Some of us are feeling much better… Many of us still have ‘No APV’s in Zaleski’ signs in our yards (more than a dozen signs have been stolen). We’ll have to stay alert to the actions of special interests who would significantly curtail the natural environment of Ohio’s meager 200,000 acres of state forest.”
AT THE MEETING LAST OCTOBER at the ODNR building in Athens, Division of Forestry Chief Robert Boyles said the division was evaluating all possible options for new APV trails. The purpose of the meeting, according to Boyles, District 4 Administrator Stephen Rist and District 5 Administrator Nate Jester was to obtain feedback from property and business owners in Vinton County (and presumably western Athens County) to aid in the process of determining where best to locate the new trails.
Jester, who said he had done a lot of work with the State Recreational Vehicle (SRV) fund – a fund dedicated to the maintenance and expansion of motorized vehicle recreation services – said he was involved with creating the proposal for more APV trails, an idea that was introduced in the previous year’s work plan.
At the October meeting, the Division included draft maps for APV trails in Vinton Furnace and Zaleski state forests in that year’s draft plan. This had sparked concern among many property owners and residents of areas adjoining and near Zaleski State Forest, at 28,000 acres the second-largest state forest in Ohio.
Fifty-two miles of APV trails had originally been proposed for Zaleski (Jester said at the meeting that that number had since decreased in response to public comments).
APV trails are sorely needed in Ohio, Jester maintained during the October meeting, a fact that resulted in the proposal for more APV trails. “We are looking at ways to serve an underserved recreation in the state,” Jester said, adding that no “substantially new” areas for APV riders have been created in Ohio since the 1970s.
“There’s 50 miles of APV trail on state public land; there’s 116 miles on the Wayne National (Forest),” Jester said. “…That’s all these people have to exercise their passion.”
In his email to The NEWS, Troll said that the state’s assistant forestry chief, Dave Lane, told him at the July 31 open house that a “major reason” proposed APV trails in Zaleski, Vinton Furnace and Shawnee state forests were being put on hold for “at least several years” is that “some acreage adjacent to another state forest (in Pike County) had become available to purchase.” New APV trails presumably could be located there, according to Troll, who said the State Recreational Vehicle (SPV) fund has more than $2 million available for the land purchase.
That, according to Troll, would be preferable to “cramming more trails into existing state forest.”
ODNR spokeperson Heis, in an email on Wednesday, said the agency “is always considering options to balance the wise use and protection of our natural resources. We understand that Ohioans want more opportunities to experience the outdoors while keeping them as natural as possible, and we evaluate every proposal in how it fits with our mission and current goals.”
The recent State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plans (SCORP), according to Heis, “recognize that ODNR properties have 50 miles of APV trail in four state forests for 48,000 registered APVs in our state. Last year’s proposal included forests where new APV trails could be constructed and be compatible with other uses of the forests. In this year’s plan we have decided to create more trail in forests where APV opportunities already exist and expand our current trail system rather than create a new one in a new forest. This also lets us make the most of the State Recreational Vehicle Fund dollars in providing more access where trails already exist.”