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The US Forest Service announced a permanent closiure of the Upper Tellico OHV trail system to correct serious erosion problems in the Upper Tellico River watershed in Cherokee County, NC.

arrow See the USDA Forest Service documents related to the Tellico decision



Restoration of Multi-Use Trail System in Sam Houston National Forest, Texas


Texas is a very large state, over 211,000,000 acres, however, over 97% of Texas lands are privately owned. Of that 3% which is public land, very little of that land can be used legally for Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) recreation. An exception to this situation is the Sam Houston Multiple Use Trail (SHMUT) System located in the Sam Houston National Forest. This 85 mile trail system can be used by motorized and non-motorized trail users and is located within an hour’s drive of Houston, Texas, the 4th largest metropolitan area in the United States.

photo of muddy trail

Damage caused by “trail braiding” around persistent water holes

After the recent implementation of the Travel Management Rule by the USFS, the SHMUT is now the only designed OHV trail system located on USFS lands in Texas. This trail system has been used for decades and consists mainly of user made trails. The long years of use combined with ineffective maintenance, and some trails being poorly located or constructed, resulted in a trail system which was in need of major restoration. There are more than 40 treated wooden bridges and more than 100 conventional culverts, and hardened stream crossings which need culverts, located in the SHMUT. Many of these bridges, culverts, hardened stream crossings and trail segments have been damaged by past hurricanes or other severe storm systems and needed to be replaced or restored.

In 2006 (phase 1) and in 2007 (phase 2) the United States Forest Service (USFS) in Texas applied for and was granted funding from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) administered Recreational Trails Program (RTP) to renovate this trail system. Total funding from these two RTP grants was $770,000. Phase 1 has been completed and phase 2 will be completed in 2009.

photo of old bridge

A wooden bridge due for replacement

The USFS in Texas worked to create a coalition of parties interested in improving and maintaining the SHMUT. This coalition might be better termed a partnership of land & recreation managers and trail users. This partnership has developed to help ensure this restoration project produced a trail system which would meet the following objectives:

This partnership initially consisted of the USFS and a local trial riders club, the Trails Riders of Houston (TRH). The USFS staff and TRH members had worked together for decades to operate and maintain this trail system. TRH members have contributed 1000s of volunteer hours for trail maintenance. TPWD joined this partnership to contribute RTP grant funding and technical expertise through the Texas OHV Program. The final member of the partnership was added when the USFS in Texas asked the USFS Trails Unlimited (TU) Enterprise Team to serve as the project managers for this project.

In the fall of 2006 TU began this project by assessing the needs for the trail system. That assessment identified the following needs for the trail system:

photo of new bridge

inspecting a fiberglass bridge in the Sam Houston National Forest

In November of 2006, TU taught a Trail Planning, Trail Design and Trail Layout class to USFS staff and TRH volunteers. TU followed that class up in the spring of 2007 and taught a class on advanced Trail Planning, Trail Design and Trail Layout class to USFS staff and volunteers.

In the spring of 2008 TU continued work on the trail system restoration. One of the unique trail innovations TU has brought to Texas includes the use of pre-engineered fiberglass reinforced polymer bridges to replace the more traditional treated wooden bridges. The fiberglass bridges offer several advantages over wooden bridges which include:

The fiberglass bridges have a minimum expected service life of 40+ years with only one scheduled maintenance item. At approximately 20 years the bridge should be sanded and resealed.

The fiberglass bridges are free span structures; they can exceed 100 feet in length and require no piers in the stream channel. This feature of these bridges produces a structure which causes no hydraulic turbulence in the stream channels during high water flows and results in less erosion around and downstream of the bridge. Having no piers in the stream channel also provides an unobstructed migration pathway in the stream channel for fish, insects, amphibians and plants.
The unassembled bridge materials can be transported to remote trail locations using All Terrain Vehicles (ATV) and ATV trailers. Trails do not need to be widened to bring in preassembled bridge components.

The bridge foundations and the bridge superstructure can be assembled and installed on site using a small number of USFS crew or volunteers and using hand tools. No cranes or helicopters are needed to install preassembled bridge components.

photo of culvert

Installing an Arched Culvert with NAOPM/NOHVCC conference attendees

TU set up opportunities for teaching volunteers from TRH to build and install fiberglass bridges. To date TU crew and TRH members have assembled and installed 3 fiberglass bridges in the SHMUT. This bridge was installed in one afternoon with a 10 person crew.

The National Association of OHV Program Managers (NAOPM) and the National Off Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) conducted their annual OHV conference in Houston, Texas in March, 2009. Each year one of the featured elements of this conference is a two day pre-conference trail ride. This year the pre-conference trail rides were conducted in the SHMUT to illustrate the trail restoration work being done there and to demonstrate the use of innovate technologies such as using fiberglass bridges and arched culverts as well as the application of more standard water control structures such as rolling dips with trail side water retention basins, changes in grade and climbing turns.

During the NAOPM/NOHVCC conference a presentation entitled “Creating Successful OHV Partnerships” was given to conference attendees. This presentation illustrated the history behind SHMUT partnership; how that partnership has evolved and demonstrated how forming similar partnerships can help conference attendees better manage their own OHV trail systems.

NAOPM and NOHVCC have developed a set of best management practices which were illustrated at this conference using the SHMUT as an example of a success story. These principles were demonstrated in the field during the trail rides and were presented as lectures during the conference. Some of these principles which are demonstrated at this conference include the following:

photo of man testing soil

Roger Poff teaching the use of a soil strength measuring device

The TU crew conducted a 40 hour SWECO Trail Dozer certification class in the spring of 2008. Twelve volunteers attended the 5 day class and have been certified at the basic operator level for use of the SWECO. These volunteers included members of the Trail Riders of Houston, The Greater Houston Off-Road Biking Association (GHORBA) and the Texas Motorized Trails Coalition (TMTC). TRH members will use this training and experience to help USFS staff use the SWECO to maintain the SHMUT after the current restoration project is completed.

TU introduced the use of “arched culverts” in Texas to replace conventional round corrugated metal culverts and hardened stream crossings. Arched culverts are corrugated plastic devices and are made from recycled high density polyethylene. These culverts have a number of advantages over conventional culverts and hardened stream crossing which include:

Arched culverts are open on the bottom to the natural streambed and provides an unobstructed migration pathway along stream channels for fish, insects, amphibians, plants and animals;

Arched culverts produce no turbulent hydraulic features at the intake and outlet of the culvert. This feature greatly reduces the erosion associated with the use of conventional culverts and makes them much less likely to wash out during high water events;
Arched culverts provide up to 70% of their volumetric flow capacity in the first 6 inches from the base of the culvert. This feature makes the culverts much less likely to wash out during significant rain events.

TU set up teaching opportunities during the NAOPM/NOHVCC conference trail rides. Conference attendees had an opportunity to have the TU crew explain the advantages of using arched culverts, to have the installation procedure demonstrated in the field and to get personally involved in the installation of the culvert.

TU also worked with volunteers from TRH to teach installation techniques for arched culverts.

TU asked Roger Poff, a retired USFS Soils Scientist, to work with local USFS staff and volunteers to develop a better wet weather management policy and decision making procedures based on trail condition monitoring using instrumentation. Roger developed a map of all of the common soil types found in the SHMUT system. He has worked with local staff and volunteers to calibrate tools which measure soil water saturation and soil strength to soil types. After the tools were calibrated to the soil types found in the SHMUT system appropriate locations were selected which be representative of system-wide trail conditions. Local USFS staff and volunteers now work together to monitor these locations to help make better decisions for when the trail are too wet for riding and when the trail can be opened after they have been closed for wet weather events.

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