The Forest Service has recently developed an off-road vehicle (ORV) plan that provides more motorized access to Juneau's backcountry. This single-objective process accommodates the needs of one user group at the expense of all others. Juneau's backcountry users would be better served if the Forest Service would abandon the ORV process and instead develop a broader backcountry recreation plan that addresses the needs of all user groups.
The cornerstone of the ORV plan is to continue motorized use of the Dan Moller Ski Bowl and Spaulding Meadows. For years, I have questioned this shared use. These two areas are Juneau's best and safest winter backcountry areas and non-motorized users simply do not have equivalent alternatives. Even more perplexing, after having been given our best, the ORV plan strives to give motorized users more areas. Public scrutiny of this plan is warranted since motorized use displaces non-motorized users.
Is it good recreational policy to implement shared use by incompatible groups in areas that provide minimal separation? Just as our society has determined that non-smokers have the right to be separated from the impacts of smokers, most recreation plans separate motorized and non-motorized users. The ORV plan offers non-motorized users the aesthetic equivalent of skiing down the Egan Drive median: They experience noise, exhaust fumes, and the danger of fast machines around slow moving individuals.
To their credit, Forest Service employees are sensitive to this issue. Unfortunately, they are short on alternatives and have prioritized the rights of motorized users. Are limited alternatives an adequate reason to prioritize a high-impact user group over others? It is important to remember that these areas are managed for non-motorized use during the other three seasons of the year. Yet the Forest Service and Trail Mix are building long gravel trails and clearing trees in both of these areas for the sole benefit of motorized users during winter months.
Juneau has limited accessible backcountry areas, especially in winter. For this reason, we need a sound planning process on which to base decisions. Only then can we develop solutions that, unlike the ORV plan, addresses the needs of all users. I recently read that Sitka is developing a backcountry recreation plan. Juneau should also have such a plan.
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