Everywhere I go, when I leave, I keep saying, "I am glad I went there!" The same is true of my meeting with leaders of the Ouachita ATV Club in Mena, Arkansas on Thursday morning (October 4). The ride over to Mena covered some pretty amazing countryside with a perfect day for riding. The meeting with the folks from the Ouachita ATV Club was an eye-opener. And, the ride out of Mena over the Talimena Scenic Byway was absolutely beautiful. I know why so many people come here to enjoy the area. It is amazing.
More importantly, I learned over breakfast with leaders from this 400 member club of BRC how important the Wolf Pen Trails on the Ouachita National Forest are to the local community. A recent study they commissioned demonstrates a $78 million dollar impact to the area. It is crucial to the local economy. Gar Eisele is one of the members of the club that I met with over breakfast. He owns a local business, and he is an involved member of the club. But Gar doesn't own an OHV. He joined the club because of their efforts to keep the trails open and managed properly. He recognizes the value to the community and saw the importance of being involved in the effort, collectively. Unfortunately, as Gar Eisele puts it that here, as in so many areas, "The problem is that rural America is fundamentally under attack, intended or otherwise. We depend on these trails and the outdoor activity for our very survival as a community."
The gist of the discussion over the table was best outlined as, "The process is flawed when the efforts and desires of dutifully elected officials are stymied by a bureaucratic and agenda driven specialist in a local FS office. No one is fixing the fundamental problem with agencies where unelected people are making rules that are executed on par with law and they don't seem to be accountable to anyone, not even within their own agency."
As many clubs have, the Ouachita club formed as a social organization to have fun but, as Pam Ferguson put it, they have since been so busy in the planning process, some of that original vision for the club has had to be set aside with so much of the attention on the ongoing planning. Tim Kiser says it is exhausting. "It is almost like the Forest Service just tries intentionally to wear you down by attrition. It shouldn't be this way." Indeed, Pam echoed that sentiment, "It is like they create meetings just to have a job. We have had meeting after meeting after meeting, each time repeating the same things, but nothing gets done. In one recent meeting that I attended, we sat for hours in idle discussions and accomplished nothing that could not have been accomplished via email much more efficiently."
Roger Morphew talked about the science, or lack there of, that is used to justify what is being done. "We tried to get specific information through a FOIA, but have yet to see it. The fact is, there is no specific or current science, but that doesn't seem to make a difference. We even have documented discussions between people crossing over agencies exchanging what needed to be said in the official documents to justify what they were doing. It is discouraging to see this going on."
Another point in the discussion centered on the system being set up to fail. There is real concern that the local Forest Service won't listen to the experts on proper trail design and maintenance in spite of investments in getting experts there. There have been thousands of dollars donated and even more in volunteer hours to try to fix the problems the FS has caused. At one point, it was identified to me that the Forest Service has spent $411,000 in grants and funding over the last few years with only 1.7 miles of trails that have been properly built and properly maintained, with much of that done by volunteers. Even more egregious is that the OHV community is vilified to try to hide the lack of management by the FS.
Frustrated though they may be, they intend to keep up their efforts to keep these trails open. "We appreciate all the help BRC's Brian Hawthorne has given us in this. That is why we are members. And, I think we have sent the message to the Forest Service that, much as they might like us too, we aren't giving up and we aren't going to go away. I grew up here and this area matters to me... to all of us." -Tim Kiser
On another note:
By the time I reached Mena, Arkansas, it was time for another 4000 mile service on the motorcycle. It was also getting to be about time for a new set of tires... WOW! Nearly 9000 miles on this trip. Fortunately, one of those people I was meeting with was Tim Kaiser, who happens to be a Yamaha Dealer (Check it out on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/WeAreBrc#!/pages/Tims-Yamaha-Polaris/10770527264...).
It worked out that Tim's mechanic did the warranty service on my bike while we had our meeting. When we finished the meeting a couple hours later, my bike was good to go and he did a great job. Unexpectedly, Tim then donated that work in support of the Turn the Tide Tour! AWESOME! THANK YOU TIM!
I also have to tell you about the kind of service you get at Tim's place. I needed a set of tires, and while Tim didn't have a set in stock, he spent a lot of time calling around finding a dealer on my way forward who would have a set and then set it all up for me to get it done there. Now that is caring for a customer and the kind of service I got at Tim's Dealership.