Forest Service: ‘We need community support’

Roads are expensive to maintain, officials note

(Chronicle file photo by Don Fink)

Almost as soon as a workshop to discuss maintenance and repairs to Red River and Questa’s popular 4×4 roads began Monday (May 14) at the Red River Conference Center, Jack Lewis, Questa District Ranger acknowledged the frustration among users and 4×4 permittees — noting it is a frustration he and others in the Forest Service share.

“Our frustration, as Forest Service employees, has run rampant as far as road maintenance…. We wish we could touch every road with a blade every year but we just can’t do that. We’re really in a bind.… I think we’re looking at about $2 million worth of fixing’ here,” Lewis told the group that included 4×4 recreation aficionados, government officials from Red River and Questa, business owners, and 4×4 rental companies and guide businesses.

After noting that many roads are inherently difficult to maintain because “These roads were put in for a different purpose [such as mining],” Lewis reassured the group there would be no repeat of the controversial Middle Fork Lake Road closure in 2004. “We are not planning to turn any existing roads into trails.”

Lewis noted the existing roads still posed a major challenge. “Some of them can’t even be maintained. The reason why we need community support, if we’re going to go look for money… a united front looks a lot better.”

The workshop targeted seven popular roads, including Goose Lake Road (FR 486); Old Red River Pass (FR 480); 4th of July Canyon Road (FR 490); Greenie Peak Road (FR 54); Cabresto Lake Road (FR 134); Flag Mountain Road; and Pioneer Creek Road (FR 485). 

“We’d like to see you guys help us prioritise,” Lewis said.

Jonathan Hayden, Acting Deputy District Ranger for the Questa and Camino Real Districts, presented a “State of the Red River Roads” with the following comments [paraphrased]:

  • The decision to close the Old Red River Pass was one the Forest Service did not take lightly. It would take one more big rain before the whole thing comes down. The entire pass is in rough shape. We want to make sure we bring that up to standard.
  • Goose Lake Road is a huge headache for us. We can’t even get a truck up there to service the toilets.
  • 4th of July Canyon is in rough shape. It’s almost single track.
  • On Pioneer Road there is a .25 miles stretch where the water runs down the road.
  • Cabresto Lake Road is bladed every year but because of traffic, over the course of the summer, it becomes washboarded.
  • Flag Mountain Road is in the worst shape of all. Heavily used by locals in Questa.

Estimated costs for road repairs start at $10,000 per mile, Hayden said, adding the lack of a bulldozer at the regional U.S. Forest Service office further exacerbated the problem “Hopefully we’ll get a bulldozer in the next year and, also, an engineer.”

The Forest Service’s immediate plan is to put together a construction package seeking bids for repairs to the Old Red River Pass and Goose Lake Road.

Adam LaDell, of the USFS Questa District, shared he had come from Sedona, Arizona, where a seemingly insurmountable road repair had been accomplished due to a partnership among guides, USFS and sponsors.

“It’s everyone working collaboratively to get this accomplished,” LaDell said, adding, some of the trail work was accomplished through in-kind contributions from guide/rental operations. “There’s a lot of things we can do with the community and everyone working together. We just don’t have the funds. We all have to work together to make it happen.”

Angel Fire’s Brett Brogdon a writer for Trails Off Road suggested pursing grants from companies like BFGoodrich.

“It’s a lot better for communities to ask for those funds,” Lewis said.

Russell Church, Environmental Compliance Manager for the Town of Red River, said those grant funds “must go to exclusive-use trails” for off-highway vehicles.

What about the Off-highway vehicle fund?

Contacted by The Chronicle for clarification, Lance Cherry, media contact with the New Mexico Game and Fish Department, said, “It would depend on what they’re proposing to do. If it was something that was for the benefit of off-highway vehicles, it could still be funded.”

As a general rule, however, “It’s got to be for off-highway vehicles, not funds for Jeep Trails.”

In previous years trail funds (typically $500,000) have been transferred to other state funds, so, according to Cherry, “There were no funds available for grants last year.”

This year, Cherry noted, “There could potentially be some funds in there” but the amount of grant funding available will depend on registration fees. “I’ll have a better idea after July 1.”

Off-highway vehicle owners in Red River and statewide pay (two-year) registration fees, which range from $48 (for nonresidents) to $53 (for residents), which fund provide OHV safety training, public outreach, and grants for trail improvements and law enforcement.

“When that grant program is in place, we do send that would all over. Agencies like the FS are often right at the top of the list.”

Road priorities

After discussion that covered a lot of ground, including winter motorized access to Middle Fork Lake, the crowd broke into three groups then reconvened to establish the following priorities with help from Julie Randall, Contract Facilitator with the National Forest Foundation: 

  • Road maintenance;
  • Protection of the watershed/environment;
  • Law enforcement/education of 4×4 riders; and
  • Economic impact.

Near the end of the meeting, Brogdon asked, “Is there a way to speed [Old Red River Pass repairs] along?”

“We’re looking at late fall,” Lewis said, adding, “I’ve had offers of volunteer service already.

Two more workshops are planned between May and September with the possibility of others in fall/winter.

Contact Jack Lewis at 575-586-0520 or  jlewis03@fs.fed.us)  or Jonathan Hayden, Acting Deputy District Ranger (575-586-7307 or jonathanhayden@fs.fed.us) if you have any questions or concerns.

About the NFF

As the nonprofit partner of the U.S. Forest Service, the NFF works with the agency to promote the health and public enjoyment of our 193-million-acre National Forest System. The NFF believes that communities should play a leading role in determining the future of our National Forests and Grasslands, and focuses on connecting these communities, and the people who comprise them, to the tools, knowledge, and funding to become active and devoted stewards of their public lands.USDA solely for the intended recipients. Any unauthorized interception of this message or the use or disclosure of the information it contains may violate the law and subject the violator to civil or criminal penalties. If you believe you have received this message in error, please notify the sender and delete the email immediately.

Old Red River Pass closure fuels questions, frustrations