Join Date: Jul 2012
Location: Weare, New Hampshire
I realize this thread is kind of dated, but I just wanted to thank mudboy and all others who have been involved in cleaning up, protecting, and getting word out about legal wheeling in this sensitive area.
I just found out about the Pines for the first time tonight. I'm about 6 hours north but if I still had family in Jersey, I'd probably be going down there more than the twice a year that I used to.
I'm involved in the trail system in New Hampshire like you are with the Pines. I know how frustrating it can get. We have an estimated 1300 miles of legal, non-maintained town roads for wheeling, yet people feel the need to go off them and tear up private property and worse, conservation land. Legal trails are being shut down all the time for this, and trails are now so sparse in some areas of the state that it's not worth wheeling there, even for the residents of those towns. So they come to where there are more trails (central and western parts of the state). In turn, the residents of those towns get fed up with all the traffic and negative connotations that come along with wheeling, apply their stereotypes, and bam, more trails start getting shut down. I'm in charge of a mapping project which is only accessible to those who are approved, which does just what you are talking about, labeling the trails by difficulty, and clearly marking them so users KNOW they are on a legal trail. We also give back to the community and conduct trail cleanups from time to time in heavy-abuse areas, much like you.
A couple ideas I have, for anyone who can suggest them to the authorites involved.
1. MUD SEASON CLOSURES. This is something that is catching on across the state in NH. Our mud season is worse than in NJ, to the point you need 4 wheel drive to drive on the MAINTAINED roads. Just last year in my town a school bus got stuck, sunk halfway up the tires. Statewide there are closures on the maintained roads for vehicles over a certain weight limit. Many towns have expanded this to cover their Class VI roads (un-maintained roads), with a much stricter weight limit, for example, 1800lbs GVW. Most towns also disallow ATV traffic on their Class VI roads, so prettymuch nobody is allowed out there on motorized, wheeled vehicles, for that period.
There's a town with a big trail system (for up here anyways) about 10 minutes from my work that has about 15 miles of legal trails you can run without touching pavement. Where it's such a large wooded area, only 15 minutes from the city, you bet it's where everyone goes to 4-wheel (or 2-wheel, for the a-holes who like keeping their foot on the floorboard), dump trash, and party. Last spring the trails got absolutely DESTROYED. This spring, the town enacted and is enforcing a legally defined mud season from February 15th through May 31st. There are signs clearly posted at the end of every trail head, stating the closure dates and that there is a minimum fine of $1000 for anyone caught out there.
Since this is the first season of doing such a thing in this town, we'll see how it goes. I know I've talked to some locals and they have the attitude of "f that, I'll go out there if I want to." I surely hope that it is ENFORCED and not just a scare tactic. Enforcing such a season has worked in other towns though, however it is annoying when we have a particularly dry season and aren't allowed out until June. Another town about 15 minutes from where I live does mud season closures on a case-by-case basis. They scope out the trails and determine which ones are most susceptible to rutting and damages, and open/close them as necessary. For the record, my town doesn't have a mud season, and generally tends to "look the other way" at yahoo wheelers.
Anyways, babbling again...
2. TICKET / PASS SYSTEM. This seems feasible where Wharton is a state park. But again, it would need to be enforced.
There is an area of land about an hour from me consisting of about 600 acres that the landowner opened up to all kinds of recreation, including wheeling. Like I said earlier, as trails in different areas started getting shut down, and as you mentioned, the spread of the Internet, more people, and especially clubs, started making this their go-to spot. Another problem with that area is it is very close to the Massachusetts border, and the Communistwealth of Massa-two-s##ts has done nearly anything in its power to ban wheeling. The majority of traffic in this area was out of state. Like you mentioned with the Quarter Mile, if you go out there on a weekend, you are GUARANTEED to meet a group of trucks/jeeps. It got to the point a couple years ago where it would be typical for there to be 50+ vehicles out there on any given weekend day. You bet the people who lived in town, especially on the access roads to this piece of land, did NOT like this. The land wasn't so much being abused, but just over-run.
Anyways, what they ended up doing was creating a website and enacting a PASS SYSTEM. Anyone who wishes to use the property must go online and download a FREE trail-use pass. Only 25 passes are honored per day. Fish & Game (rangers) heavily patrol the area and anyone caught without a pass is fined. Word was put out to all clubs who actively used the land, and there have been no problems since.
3. GET THE WORD OUT. Many recognized clubs in NH and surrounding states are part of a larger governing body (NEA4WD), so communication is relatively easy to get across to anyone involved in a club. We also have a very active online community (ExploringNH.com) that consists of people who are members of clubs, and people who are on their own. Not to mention, word of mouth spreads quickly in small towns. You're doing a great job with this on this site, though I'm not sure how active you are on other forums or within the community. Networking is key - if you have power or know someone with power in other organizations (ie. clubs, forums), use what you have to get the word out to as many people as possible.
Education is the best tool that you can use. I'm only 21 and it was only 3 years ago I bought my first "mud truck" - a Bronco on 35s with a built 351W and welded differentials. I was out there tearing up every hole I could find - not that I was trying to destroy people's property, but I didn't know any better. Like you said in the 90s (and more-so before), environmental awareness and liability wasn't what it is today. I remember going all kinds of places with family and their friends up until I was about 12 years old - we had the smallest jeep, on 33s. Some trucks were on 44s and would get mired. That's just what I (and many others) grew up on, so we just assumed it was okay.
It wasn't until I got introduced to ExploringNH and the Tread Lightly program (through ENH) that I learned what wheeling REALLY was about, and that what I was doing was detrimental to the sport. I sold the truck (after blowing it up, of course), bought my Jeep, built it into a comfortable trail rig, and haven't looked back since. I've done extensive research into what is legal and what is not, and only purposely venture onto private property if I have permission from the landowner. I'm deeply involved in organizing trail runs and projects like mapping the trails.
Use your resources to your greatest advantage and try to educate the public, that we're looking to have fun, while minimizing our impact on the environment, and keeping everyone else around us happy. Make sure people realize that without the support of local residents and officials, our sport is no-more. We've already seen the effects of this and the flywheel is moving in the wrong direction.
4. I'm a little on the fence about whether making the maps public to the INTERNET is a good idea or not. As I said, in our Mapping program, the maps are only accessible by users who have proven themselves to be responsible and interested in scouting new trails and preserving what we have. However, in NH the trails are much more spread out (even though up here, we don't think so) and not as easy to find. In this case here, anyone can do like I did and type Pine Barrens or Wharton State Forest into Google, and see exactly where it is, and know that there are hundreds of trails there. Our goal is preventing sensitive information from getting in the wrong hands, of people who would go out and abuse the trails if they knew where they were. Yours seems to be education (which is also great - #3) and trying to make people like me who stumble upon this place, aware of whether they're going and whether it is legal or not. It's up to you to make that decision.
Sorry for the long post. Got a little carried away. But like I said it hits home to me, where I'm involved in similar things up here in NH, so I just figured I'd share my thoughts. I hope to eventually make my way down to Wharton and do some exploring and maybe meet up with some others down there.
The "Mall Crawler" - 1998 ZJ Grand Cherokee 5.2 V8, D44a rear axle, NP242 ESY transfer case swap, 4.5" Rough Country lift, Up-Country skids, 31x10.5x15 Destination M/T, future mods planned.