The Forest Service released their decision yesterday to move forward with formalizing roughly 1.5 miles of existing undesignated trails and building less than 1000 feet of new trails to improve access to the Upper Chattooga River for all visitors.
Roughly 1.2 miles of the trails (the County Line Trail) are nice for hikers, anglers and other visitors, but have no value as paddling access. The small amount of remaining trails offer all visitors opportunities to sustainably and enjoyably reach the river and grant paddlers the access they need to avoid Forest Service river closures.
The Forest Service is right to convert these existing informal trails and river access areas to sustainable formal trails. It is well within their normal range of management actions and begins the process of bringing the trail system in the river corridor up to modern standards. Next we hope they will address the 19 miles of user created trails in the corridor. The trail decisions are good, but the decisions retain recreational management judgements that are illogical, biased and needlessly put the public at risk, which is characteristic of agency management of this river.
The analysis reports that paddling use last year occurred on only 7 days with less than 30 people descending the river. These use levels, which are far below capacity, are predicted to remain relatively constant for the foreseeable future. Monitoring revealed no impacts associated with paddling. Other visitors remain uncounted and are predicted to grow in number. As expected, the data show that paddling is a non-issue on the Upper Chattooga, undeserving of the severe Forest Service limits on the activity.