HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) – The Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday it’s considering closing the state’s most popular off-road vehicle trail, an 18-mile loop in western Maryland’s Green Ridge State Forest, as part of a plan to curb environmental damage and illegal riding statewide.
Other recommendations include tighter enforcement of illegal trail riding, possibly with higher fines, and an increase in the $15 annual fee that Maryland charges to ride all-terrain vehicles on state forest land.
The agency is accepting public comments on the recommendations through April 30. DNR officials said they will discuss their findings with ATV users and other interested parties invited to a meeting Wednesday in Owings Mills
The agency’s 90-page report said that of 221 authorized trails across Maryland, 41 have been highly impacted by factors including damage to rare, threatened and endangered species or sensitive habitats.
“Our primary mission is to properly manage and protect the natural resources on the lands we oversee,” DNR Secretary John Griffin said. “However, we are also very much interested in providing sustainable recreational opportunities on our public lands for a wide spectrum of outdoor experiences.”
Riding on both authorized routes and hundreds of unauthorized trails has mushroomed in the last 20 years. In the early ’90s, the state sold about 500 permits annually for the Green Ridge trail; last year, it sold 2,182, a more than fourfold increase, according to the report.
The Green Ridge State Forest website lists a tentative trail reopening date of March 28, but State Forester Steven Koehn said the DNR hasn’t decided whether the trail will open at all this year.
The report says the Green Ridge trail could be replaced with a relocated trail that would “provide ecological benefits to the Green Ridge ecosystem while offsetting the human safety and DNR capital impacts of the current trail system.”
The state also is mulling closure of the Poplar Lick trail in the Savage River State Forest, closure or relocation of the Burkholder Trail in the Potomac-Garrett State Forest, and relocation of parts of the Chandler Trail in the Pocomoke State Forest, the report says.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)