On Monday (Sept 24) I left Dahlonega, GA headed toward Tallahassee, FL. I left early, hoping that I would beat the morning rush through Atlanta. No such luck. I am witness to the fact that these people get up early so they can jam together. I've seen some rush hours in big cities, but Monday morning through Atlanta has got to be one of THE.
And, by the way, it was a bit nippy at 45 degrees... That'll wake you up at highway speed (before the rush traffic of course). Another thing that'll wake you up is the dew build on the painted areas of the road. I'm just sayin'.
As much as I layered up in the chill of the morning, I layered it all back off by the afternoon in Southern GA and Northern FL. I'm thinking there are still some of my clothes lying by the roadside between the GA and FL state line. (No it wasn't a "YIPPEE! RIDE NEKKID!" thing.) It was still around 80 degrees in Tallahassee as I pulled into the parking lot of where I was meeting with the leaders of the Tallahassee Trail Riders (http://www.tallahasseetrailriders.com/).
Like I have heard many times on this trip, there has been a severe reduction of available trail mileage on the National Forest here as well, and it is causing challenges. Where once there were over 350 miles of trail, now there is about 50 for single track and 49 for ATVs which are mostly old roads. The number of riders hasn't decreased though and stuffing the same number of people into decreasing real estate causes issues.
Maintaining trails is one of those issues. An earlier grant garnered the Forest a SWECO machine to maintain the trails; however that machine has since been moved to another forest. Trails are not being maintained to the level they should be. The FS claims lack of funding for this and other projects. This club, like many others I have talked with, also struggles with finding enough volunteers to help as well.
Another frustration I heard echoed here was that while they have tried to work with the FS on projects, it is like they keep running into dead ends, double standards, or standards that seem to be moving targets. On a recent effort, they thought everything was all lined up, including the funding, and then, because of delays and a change, it dead-ended and even the $250k RTP grant was turned back.
Sadly, the funding issue is only compounded. As many of you may know, Florida is one of the states that recently decided to opt out of the RTP program.
I also heard again how we need to find solutions to educating riders that aren't involved with organized recreation and about how we need to account for getting young people involved with the efforts of clubs. Larry Nielsen, President of the Tallahassee Trail Riders said it best. "You only need look around this table to see we are an aging bunch. We need to find ways to attract the younger generation into our clubs."
John Wheeler, one of the other directors, described that one of their biggest challenges is, "The process of the Forest Service moves very, very slow. It moves so slowly, that just as our efforts get to the point of getting something done out on the ground, there is a personnel change in the FS and we end up starting all over again."
I write all this and think, I seem to be repeating similar--if not the same--story after story everywhere I go. There are proven solutions that work. Outdoor recreation is an industry that has great potential for the economics of communities. Groups are out here, enthusiastic and wanting to partner and solve the issues, but they are against stumbling blocks that inhibit getting solutions to the ground. How frustrating is that? Why is that?