Spring is here and people will be hitting the woods and water to enjoy the long-awaited warmer days.
While fishing, spring wild turkey hunting, and searching for morels are still the most popular spring season pursuits, trail riding with off-highway vehicles is fast becoming a popular activity in Mark Twain National Forest.
All-terrain vehicle (ATV) and utility task vehicle (UTV) sales continue to trend upward because this equipment is so versatile in work, home, and recreation pursuits.
Mark Twain National Forest has nearly 125 miles of trails and countless roads open to off-highway vehicles. Before heading out for a ride through the woods, arm yourself with information to make your trip a success.
And remember, responsible recreation is in your hands – follow these “Tread Lightly” principles:
• T — Travel responsibly. Ride only where motorized vehicles are permitted on Mark Twain National Forest.
Motorcycles, ATVs, and UTVs less than 50 inches in width are permitted at Chadwick Motorcycle and ATV Use Area in Christian County and at Sutton Bluff Motorcycle and ATV Use Area in Reynolds County.
Forest Service riding permits are required at both areas. Daily and seasonal permits are available for purchase through the Forest Service and some local vendors.
Off-highway vehicles are permitted on Forest Service roads designated as being “open to highway vehicles” on the official Mark Twain National Forest Motor Vehicle Use Map, but only in counties where ATV and UTV county permits are issued.
On-the-ground, Forest Service roads will be physically numbered with a brown Carsonite post. The post will display the road identification number and the distance for which the road is open for riding.
Motorcycles, ATVs and UTVs must meet Missouri state motor vehicle regulations to be allowed on designated Forest Service roads, and must adhere to regulations for that county in regard to permits, flags, and lights when riding on county or Forest Service roads.
• R — Respect the rights of others. Respect the rights of hikers, campers, hunters and others to enjoy their activities undisturbed.
Leave gates and other barriers as you found them and do not ride around them. Respect private land and landowners by staying on designated roads and trails.
Always ask permission before crossing private lands.
• E — Educate yourself. Gather maps and review regulations before your trip. Check with the county to obtain an ATV/UTV county permit.
Free Motor Vehicle Use Maps can be obtained at all Mark Twain National Forest offices, on the web at www.fs.usda.gov/main/mtnf, or through the use of a free smartphone app called Avenza.
The latter is useful because the phone’s GPS location can be set to show on the free Motor Vehicle Use Maps, giving you the confidence in knowing you are on a designated road or trail.
A new regulation went into effect in September 2017 for motorcycles, ATV, and UTV on Forest Service trails — no operator is allowed to carry passengers unless the machine has been specifically designed by the manufacturer to carry more than one person.
• A — Avoid sensitive areas. Unique and special habitats provide homes for Missouri’s rare species, such as rocky glades, springs, fens, and sinkhole ponds.
These can be quickly destroyed when off-highway vehicles stray from designated roads and trails. Keeping to designated routes protects wildlife habitat and ground nesters such as turkeys.
You will also be ensuring that historic and pre-historic sites are protected for generations to come.
• D — Do your part. Practice safe riding habits by wearing an approved helmet and displaying a slow-moving vehicle sign and flag on the ATV or UTV when on designated Forest Service roads.
Avoid the spread of non-native invasive plants by keeping your machine clean. Dispose of your trash properly. Protect the environment by staying on the trail and road tread.
Model responsible trail riding behavior and leave the area better than you found it. Tread lightly!
(Becky Ewing is the district ranger for the Mark Twain National Forest, Potosi-Fredericktown Ranger District. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)