Final decision on Tracy Ridge trails might go to higher level

Late last week, Allegheny National Forest officials released a draft decision indicating their intent to open up 12.5 miles of trails at Tracy Ridge to mountain bikes.

A final decision can’t be made until a 45 day objection period unfolds.

And if an objection is made, the final decision will be made by a higher level of federal authority.

“The objections go to our regional office in Milwaukee,” Bradford District Ranger Rich Hatfield told the Times Observer. “A team will be assembled to review the objections.”

Hatfield said that the “objection review officer” is the regional forester, Kathleen Atkinson.

“She will decide how the decision goes forward,” Hatfield said. “This process provides a second level of review for decisions and projects. The process is only triggered if we receive an objection on a project decision.”

That process would appear to combat – as one person who commented on the project’s environmental assessment claimed – that the assessment “seems written from the perspective of trying to structure an EA to support a decision rather than a fair and honest appraisal.”

“The NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process is designed to disclose the environmental effects of federal actions,” Hatfield said. “NEPA also calls for ‘alternatives’ to the proposed action to be considered. During the planning process, the alternatives received… did not meet the purpose and need for the project.”

Those included items such as the argument Tracy Ridge should be a wilderness study area or that mountain bikes should use oil and gas roads or snowmobile trails.

“Overall, I think the draft decision is a reasonable approach – 12.5 miles of shared use; nearly 22 miles of trails in the area remain hiking only,” Hatfield said. “Shared use trails are quite common across the country – however, if a hiker is offended by the presence of bicyclists, there are more than 150 miles of hiking-only trails on the ANF. There are no ‘bicycling only’ trails.

“Even at Tracy Ridge, an option exists for hikers that want to avoid the shared use trails – the North Country Trailhead at Sugar Bay allows access to the NCT, Tracy Ridge and the boat-to campgrounds without sharing trails with bicyclists.”