Mountain bikers and perhaps even horse riders would need to buy a permit to ride in the Black Hills National Forest under an idea floated recently as a possible solution to the dispute over trail construction and maintenance in the forest.
The forest’s advisory board heard an update from a working group appointed to study non-motorized trails during a meeting late last month at the Forest Service Center in Rapid City.
A freewheeling discussion ensued, and Bob Burns, a member of the board and the working group, wondered aloud whether a permit system like the one established in 2011 for motorized off-road trails might be appropriate to help fund the construction and maintenance of non-motorized trails.
The words were barely out of Burns’ mouth when Brent Kertzman, the trail coordinator for the Black Hills Mountain Bike Association, interjected this from his seat in the audience: “We would advocate for that, yes.”
Kertzman said he is surprised that motorized users such as off-road motorcyclists and ATVers have not yet sued for relief from what he called the “discriminatory” fees they pay. In the interest of fairness and to help fund new and improved non-motorized trails, Kertzman said, permit cards could be sold to non-motorized users such as mountain bikers and perhaps others, including horse-riders.
The forest's motorized trail system limits users to designated off-road trails and requires them to purchase a permit decal for the vehicles they drive on the trails. Permits are $23.50 for seven days or $28.50 for a year.
The possibility of enacting a permit system for non-motorized trails is among the latest developments to arise from a longstanding dispute between mountain bikers and Black Hills National Forest officials over trail construction and maintenance.
Some mountain bikers have been asking for new trails for years, and some have built unapproved trails in the forest. In April, a district forest ranger who'd grown fed up with the unapproved trails issued a letter to mountain-biking groups threatening the builders of the makeshift trails with prosecution and incarceration.
The letter and its tone angered some in the mountain-biking community. Subsequent discussions between the cyclists and forest officials revealed the lack of a formal process for evaluating new trail proposals. Developing such a process is one of the tasks recently assigned to the non-motorized trails working group.
Forest officials have said they are concerned about the costs and manpower that would be needed to add and maintain more trails than those that already exist, including the 95 miles of authorized non-motorized trails in the Mystic District, the closest to Rapid City of the four districts in the forest.
Mark Van Every, who recently succeeded the retired Craig Bobzien as forest supervisor, reiterated that concern at the Sept. 21 advisory board meeting and advocated a cautious approach to trail proposals.
“It doesn’t do us any good to build new things we can’t take care of,” Van Every said.