Trail Laws

Gathering and understanding information that will aid the Big Bear Valley Trails Foundation in designing a Non-Motorized Recreational Trail Network Plan for our area of the San Bernardino National Forest.

Laws1What do laws have to do with trails? Plenty, especially when you live in an area where the largest public landholder by far is the United States Forest Service. Here’s how laws affect us:

Legally, you cannot build any kind of trail on public lands, or cause any significant ground disturbance, without permission from the USFS. Cross country travel is permitted, but what happens when that social neighborhood path or horse loop gets used so much that it becomes a a recognizable trail? Is this illegal trail “building”?

Legally, you cannot maintain any kind of trail without permission from the USFS. This means, technically, that the do-gooder samaritan who is trimming back overgrown willow branches on the lower trail up to Sugarloaf Mountain is breaking the law. They should have permission from the USFS, because unknowingly they may be affecting the habitat of the Willow Fly-Catcher, a bird that seasonally breeds in these willows.

Compounding matters is the distinction between System Trails (these are the legal ones designated by the USFS) and Non-System Trails (these are the illegal user-created trails that have not been formally introduced into the system by the USFS).

Legally, you cannot maintain Non-System Trails. And the USFS cannot give permission to do this because formally acknowledging a trail means either A. bringing the trail into the system (along with the required environmental criteria) or B. making plans to restore the damaged area to it’s natural state (destroying the trail).

Seems that it’s very easy to unknowingly run afoul of the laws of our forest.

USFS-BoundaryWhile it’s tempting to just fly under the radar with trail building and maintaining, we live in a very well used, and increasingly popular, destination for outdoor trails based recreation. There is rising scrutiny on user-created trails and unsanctioned trail “maintenance” here in the San Bernardino National Forest.

Good news is that we have friends in the local USFS that see the need for constructive communty collaboration and have encouraged us to look at a long term solution.

Back To Trail Laws

If we’re going to take the USFS up on their offer of conversation about our public lands, it’s best to go into it with a full understanding of the laws that affect trails surrounding the Big Bear Valley.

USFS Involvement: Our goal is to work in a positive and collaborative fashion with the USFS throughout this entire process. As such, the current USFS administration will be invited to proof documents as they are posted on our website, and whenever possible and prudent, we will adjust content accordingly.

While the information is overwhelming and intimidating (and a little dry at times…), it also provides an opportunity to understand, and subsequently demand, that we receive our due rights as recreational users of the National Forest system. As such, we’re going to do the research and make available the information on our website. Here’s the general plan:

Outline of Laws Relating to Trails