Biggest change would be to Happy Valley Road
Proposed Coronado National Forest changes would mean curtailed access for roadside campers in some spots, a forest official said.
However officials said they would try to keep as many campsites open as possible.
The changes to motorized vehicle rules – mandated by the federal government – are designed to ensure that road systems are maintained in a way that allows public and forest service access and protects the environment, said Laura White, an official for Coronado National Forest.
The proposed rules will be presented to the public Thursday in an open house in Tucson. The biggest change would restrict camping along Happy Valley Road, a 15-mile gravel path along the eastern flank of the Rincon Mountains.
“That’s the one where we have proposed doing away with dispersed motorized camping” within 300 feet of the road, White said. “We’re seeing an increase in the resource damage.”
The area, near Mescal, about an hour’s drive from Tucson, is crisscrossed with wildcat roads cut through the woods.
Some areas are so well-used that they are little more than large, streamside dirt lots where campers park RVs.
The new rules would create “spur” roads off of Happy Valley Road where camping would be allowed, White said.
Southern Arizonans have long used the area to escape from Tucson and as a launching point for ATV rides and hunting treks. Trails cut by riders have damaged the streambed in many places, and unauthorized trails are common.
But camper and hunter Jeff Gregory, 47, thinks the U.S. Forest Service is using the wrong method to control damage.
Gregory, a Mescal resident who was out at Happy Valley with his family Saturday, thinks the government should let campers camp, but make them respect the environment.
“Don’t restrict camping, just up the enforcement. If they come out here and see that your camp site’s a mess, they could issue a citation,” he said.
Joel Garmon, 48, has been camping and hunting at Happy Valley for three decades. He disputes White’s contention that there is an increase in damage.
“I don’t think this is in any worse shape than it was 30 years ago,” he said.
Most campers respect the environment and even clean up after others, he said. Still, a lot of people go there to drink, he said.
“That’s where you get a lot of problems with disrespect,” Garmon said.
The rule changes would add 5.75 miles of new forest road, reroute 0.95 miles and close 1.27 miles. There would be no significant changes to ATV access, because rules already prohibit ATVs except on designated roads, White said.
After the road changes were confirmed, maps would be published, probably by the end of this year, she said.
“That will be the enforcement tool, basically,” she said.
The Forest Service will take comments on the proposals through April 15.
If you go
What: U.S. Forest Service open house to present proposed vehicle use rules.
When: 5-7:30 p.m., Thursday
Where: Udall Regional Center, 7200 E. Tanque Verde Road
Coronado National Forest Transportation Analysis Plan scoping statement: http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado/travel/scrd-scoping-notice-03112009.shtml