As you get your hiking, bicycling, or ATV riding gear out of the garage and prepare to get out on the trail in the next few weeks, there are a few extra steps you can take to make your experience a safe one on Mark Twain National Forest trails.

These precautions include:

• Take it slow the first time out — Recent storms and floods have taken a toll on many of the Mark Twain National Forest’s trails.

A Type 2 National Incident Management Team (IMT), along with Mark Forest employees, have worked for over two weeks assessing and repairing damage so that trails could re-open for your use. Trails have been rutted and washed out, and trees have fallen across trails in many places.

Even after a trail is open for use, its condition may be a little different than before the storms. This is especially important for ATV riders to consider as they hit the trail for the first time since the storm.  

Take it slow the first time out this year, even if it is a trail you are familiar with. The potential exists for new trees to drop across trails; new washouts can occur after every rain; and repair work may have changed the characteristics of a given trail a bit. Please be cautious while hiking or riding.

• Check for closures — Although Sutton Bluff on the Salem Ranger District, and Chadwick on the Ava Ranger District, have areas that are open and ready to ride, there are also sections of those recreation areas that are closed off for safety.

Forest crews may still be working to re-open trails, so please be alert to – and respect – any closure signs. These are there for their safety and yours. All closures are posted online at www.fs.usda.gov/mtnf.

Hikers, bikers, and horseback riders will benefit from checking the closure list before hitting forest trails. Call the local Ranger District, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 pm, for more information about status and conditions.

• Be weather aware — Bad weather can create many safety hazards on forest trails. Please check the weather forecast often before going out on the trail. Be prepared with the proper rain gear if there is even a chance of rain.

Rain can loosen already-weakened tree roots, causing more trees to fall on trails, and high winds also have the potential of knocking down more trees or large limbs, so stay alert and inspect the canopy as you move down the trail — especially in areas where you take breaks or set up your camp.

• Get a map — The Forest Service Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM), found online at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/mtnf/map/mvum, shows all the roads and trails that are open to motor vehicles on Mark Twain National Forest.

MVUM maps are also available for free at district offices. Forest topographic maps can also be purchased by visiting or calling one of our offices. ATV riding regulations can be found online at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/mtnf/atv.

• Keep learning — These are just a few tips. It is always good to team up with more experienced hikers and riders to improve your skills. There are also ATV safety courses offered by the state that can help build your trail safety skills at www.offroad-ed.com/missouri/.

This is not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it will get travelers thinking about trail safety on Mark Twain National Forest post-flood.

The flood response on the Forest is now being managed by a local, Forest Type 3 (IMT) which continues to perform flood recovery work across the Forest. The IMT is now focused on performing safety inspections and repair work on roads and trails, and re-opening the few recreation sites still closed.

“Please be extra cautious on trails as we open them up,” said IMT Incident Commander Chris Woods. “We want to make sure that our trail users have a good experience and get home safely at the end of the day.”

For further information on the flood response on Mark Twain National Forest, contact Cody Norris, public affairs officer, at (573) 341-7405.

cut

Photo of rutting from flood shows the type of damage that may be encountered on trails.