Four-wheeling in the Ouachita National Forest in southeastern Oklahoma will be restricted to designated trails only, beginning in September 2008 under a new policy adopted by the U.S. Forest Service. Open houses are scheduled next week in Broken Bow and Poteau by the Forest Service to get public input on what routes should be established for ATVs (all-terrain vehicles), motorcyles, four-wheel drive jeeps and other off-highway vehicles (OHVs). Forest officials admit that some visitors who have enjoyed four-wheeling in the 352,000-acre forest will not be happy with the changes. "We are not going to have designated trails or access by four-wheelers to every place someone wants to go,” said C. J. Norvell, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service in Talihina. Currently, such vehicles are allowed on open forest roads and through the general forest area, except for McCurtain County lands around the Broken Bow Lake. Under the new policy, all off-road vehicles must stay on designated trails. Such trails may include a mix of open forest roads and routes off the road, Norvell said. Some trails may be open only seasonally, such as those to accommodate hunters, she said. The U.S. Forest Service is making the changes because of growing recreational use by four-wheeling enthusiasts, Norvell said. The escalation in cross country off-roading is damaging the forests, Norvell said. Man-made trails created by four-wheeling through the forest have caused erosion, destroyed vegetation and wildlife habitat, and threaten to eliminate some botancial species, she said. And there are safety issues. In the Ouachita National Forest, off-highway vehicles share the roads with loggers, and the forest (which includes parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma) averages one lifeflight per week, she said. Each national forest will provide maps of where people can ride. "Every national forest is having to do this,” Norvell said. "Designated trails are going to happen. We don't have an option not to implement it.”
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Alternative trailsThe public can review maps of potential routes and suggest alternative trails for off-highway vehicles in the Ouachita National Forest on Wednesday in Poteau at the Days Inn and Thursday in Broken Bow at the public library. The meetings are open from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. each day.