Roads less traveled

Rhonda Silence
starnews@boreal.org unorganizedterritory.me

Last week I hopefully made it clear that I am both a motorhead and a tree hugger. This week, I’m following up on that theme, encouraging my friends of both ilk to pay attention to the current Superior National Forest roads study.

The U.S. Forest Service is seeking input from the forest loving public to “determine a sustainable road system that provides both safe travel for visitors and protects forest resources, such as water quality.”

The primary reason for the roads study is that federal funding for road maintenance has steadily been shrinking. According to the U.S. Forest Service, it has a growing $8.4 billion national maintenance and reconstruction backlog. The Forest Service just doesn’t have the money to replace culverts, grade, and clear brush on all of its roads— across the United States or here in the Superior National Forest.

At this point it doesn’t appear that changes will be too dramatic. In a brief summary, the Superior National Forest states that phase one of the roads study recommends that 16 miles of road are “likely not needed.” The first round of the study identified 85 miles of roads that will likely see a change in road maintenance level. The plan calls for changing four miles of road to be re-designated as trails. Another 10 miles may become “special use permit” roads. And finally the initial recommendations call for a change of jurisdiction for 43 miles.

What does that mean? I’m not sure. I need to take a few hours and delve into the maps on the website. According to the Forest Service, there are 2,500 miles of road within the Superior National Forest.

So the potential changes—158 miles—don’t seem to be too drastic. For instance, the Forest Service states that the 16 miles “likely not needed” are primarily “scattered, short, dead end spur roads.” But if one of those dead end roads goes to your favorite fishing hole or berry patch, you may not be pleased to drive up one day to find it blocked with boulders.

My “tree hugger” side says, “No big deal, I can walk in.” Until I remember how fast our wonderful forest regenerates. A path like that, into a remote spot, gets overgrown really quickly if it never sees vehicle traffic.

If you don’t believe me, take a hike on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Hunter Walking Trails off of the Meridian Road in Grand Marais and The Grade near Two Island Lake. Those trails created by a bulldozer get overgrown and have to occasionally be bulldozed again to keep them open. Foot traffic, especially during grouse season, is enjoyable, but it doesn’t keep the path clear.

A bit more concerning are the 85 miles that may see a change in maintenance level. I need to do some digging to see which roads are being changed and whether they are being downgraded. Because frequently, a reduction in maintenance level is a de facto road closure.

My friends and family have already discovered this in our backcountry travels. There are many favorite drives that are disappearing as tall grass grows up in the road bed and trees and shrubs encroach in the driving path. We’ve seen culverts wash out, never to be replaced, cutting off a nice loop through the woods.

Again, this impacts me whether I’m riding in a pickup, on my all-terrain vehicle or walking. I’m not a mountain biker—I prefer the solid surface of pavement when I’m pedaling— but I don’t imagine that cross country bikers enjoy mowing through shoulder high grass either.

So I encourage you to take some time before the second comment period ends on May 22, 2015 to look at the first phase recommendations. Send in your thoughts.

And then get out and enjoy the forest in whatever manner you like. See you in the woods!

The road that leads to
nowhere for others might
just be the road that leads
to somewhere for you!

Mehmet Murat ildan

Click here for digital edition
2015-04-25 digital edition

Special sections:

Fisherman's Picnic 2017

Arts Festival 2017

Wooden Boat Show 2017

Meet the Class of 2017

Spring Home Improvement


Copyright 2009-2018 Cook County News Herald, All Rights Reserved