"The wheel deal
Off-road vehicle trails officially open today
BY SUSAN LATHAM CARR
People whose love of the outdoors isn't quite complete unless seen from the seat of a motorbike or all-terrain vehicle will have a new way to fulfill those desires starting today.
The new Off-Highway Vehicle trails system in the Ocala National Forest will officially open for business today with a ribbon-cutting at 9 a.m.
The U.S. Forest Service and Ocala National Forest Association are hosting the event at the OHV Center off Forest Road 88, about 2.5 miles north of County Road 316.
Right after the ribbon-cutting, there will be three different trail rides, one for sport all-terrain vehicles, a long family ride of about 30 miles and a shorter ride of about 12 miles for families with younger children.
There will be hot dogs and sodas available for a quarter each.
If you get there early enough, you just might meet Terry Thompson, president of the newly formed nonprofit Ocala National Forest Association. He will be riding on his two-seater Yamaha Rhino with his 3-year-old grandson, Reese.
"The whole basis of the trail system is to be able to enjoy it and not destroy it," Thompson said about the Forest.
The new trail system will allow people who have motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes, golf carts, sand buggies, jeeps and the like to enjoy riding through different types of environments, like hardwood or long leaf pine areas.
"We have 142 miles of designated trails that we are in the process of siting, clearing and mapping," said Dan Ritter, U.S. Forest Service recreational technician. "We're 99 percent done."
Most of the trails, which have been open for about two months, are located north of County Road 316 between State Road 19 and Northeast 160th Avenue Road. The approved corridor width is 12 feet. Volunteers did most of the work, Ritter said.
There are three types of trails. One is exclusively for motorcycles, one is for both ATVs and motorcycles and the third is a mixed use, for ATVs, motorcycles, jeeps and other vehicles.
Ritter said that in the last 15 to 20 years there has been a boom in the use of people riding through the Forest on off-road vehicles and it has put stress on the environment.
"It's not just at this forest," Ritter said. "It's nationwide."
"It really boils down to land management as well as providing for the American people to have a place for recreation," Ritter said.
Thompson said there are three different areas to enter the trails.
One is through the Lake Delancy Campground. There is a $6 user fee to park there.
Another is at Rodman Dam off State Road 19.
And, there are four or five temporary access areas off Forest Road 97, known as Pipeline Road, north of County Road 316. Thompson said people will see the trails from the road because there are stop signs on the trails. Simply pull off the road to park.
Contracts have been awarded to construct trailheads with toilet facilities, but construction has not yet begun. It is hoped that the trailheads will be completed in a few months, Thompson said.
A second phase of trails, of roughly the same number of miles, is planned for the south end of the Forest, Ritter said. Biologists currently are examining the area to help delineate the trail system.
Thompson is hoping that people will join the Ocala National Forest Association, which has partnered with the Forest Service to provide sustainable recreation for the Forest. For more information go to www.onfa.org
. There also is a link to the trail maps at that site."