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Pa. forest using $22,000 in state funds to improve ATV trails

June 20, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

FAYETTEVILLE, Pa. -- Michaux State Forest is getting a $22,000 slice of a $3.5 million grant from the governor's office to improve more than 480 miles of all-terrain vehicle trails in seven state forests.

The money will also be used to improve rails-to-trails systems. Franklin County's first, in Chambersburg, is in the planning stages.

Michaux State Forest, an 85,000-acre stretch of mountainous public forest lands in Franklin, Adams and Cumberland counties, will use its grant to buy a small bulldozer-like machine to improve its ATV trails.

Buchanan State Forest, which sits in Western Franklin County and parts of Fulton and Bedford counties, will get $34,000 to improve parking facilities and loading ramps for ATV users.

Michaux's 38 miles of ATV trails opened in 1985 after the State Legislature passed a law regulating use of the tough little four-wheel drive vehicles.

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Mike Kusko, chief forester at Michaux ,said forest officials asked members of Michaux Off Road Enthusiasts or More, for help in getting trails mapped out.

Club members went into the forest on their ATVs and flagged out trails. Forest officials approved most of them, Kusko said.

"It was the cheapest and best way to build ATV trails," Kusko said. "We didn't need bulldozers and there was very little cost," he said.

Kusko said the only trails needing repair are those originally made with bulldozers, mostly over old logging roads. Many were part of the 130 miles of snowmobile trails threading through the forest and over forest roads. "Snowmobiles don't touch the ground, they ride over the snow," Kusko said. "ATVs chew it up and wear off the dirt on the trails that were made by bulldozers. They don't seem to bother those that were made by ATVs because they're covered in grass and other vegetation."

The damaged trails will be smoothed out, then covered with recycled asphalt material that PennDot digs up from road shoulders.

"When it heats up in the hot weather it gets like hard asphalt again," Kusko said.

None of the governor's grant money can be used to add to the ATV trail systems in the state's forests, he said. That issue is being discussed in a series of public hearings being held around the state, he said.

Hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers share the trails with the ATVs, Kusko said. "There isn't much conflict between them," he said. Hikers, bike riders and equestrians hear the ATVs coming and move to the side to let them past, he said.

There are nearly 100 miles of hiking trails in Michaux, including 44 miles of the Appalachian Trail that passes through the forest. Kusko said the state wants to add hiking trails and might get hiking clubs to map them out, much like MORE did for the ATV trails.

Some people object to any motorized use in the forest, Kusko said. "It's our job as managers to protect the forest first then provide for wide use by different groups."

ATVs must be registered and must use approved trails only. "Our biggest problems are those who snub their nose at the law and ride where they please. About 98 per cent of the riders obey the rules," Kusko said.

"Most riders are okay, but there are always a few bad apples," said Andy Fleming, 48, of Shippensburg, Pa. He said more trails are needed because more people are riding ATVs. "It's a fast-growing sport," he said.

The trails are open from Memorial Day to late September. They are closed during the hunting season and reopen from mid-December to early April.

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