Spearhead Trails addressing environmental issues

·3 min read

May 16—TAZEWELL, Va. — Environmental issues have surfaced on the Spearhead ATV Trail system in Southwest Virginia, but trail officials say they are working with state regulators on handling them as they become aware of them.

According to an article on the High Lonesome Trails website, Spearhead Trails, which includes Tazewell County, has been notified of more than 15 environmental violations by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which said the violations were discovered last fall in part by complaints filed by local residents.

Spearhead covers about 600 miles of ATV, horse and walking trials across several counties and the article said the problems identified by DEQ inspectors "range from erosion and sediment issues stemming from substandard construction and maintenance practices to more serious issues, such as the excavation of public waterways without state and federal permits, allowing ATVs to operate in streambeds without access barriers, and discharging sediment from trails into waterways."

Shawn Lindsey, executive director of the Spearhead Trial system, said most of the violations found were on part of the Original Pocahontas Trail that had been shut down by a logging operation..

"We are working now to get that trail open with more environmentally friend trails," he said. "We invest money and resources each year to address a range of environmental concerns."

Lindsey said the "outlaw trails" used by riders that are not officially part of the system may also tend to see more problems.

"We rarely build a trail," he said. "We take over existing trails and make make them environmentally friendly, safe and acceptable. We try to keep it well-maintained and address issues when they happen."

Lindsey said they also try to keep riders on the official trails.

With hundreds of miles of trails, he said it a difficult job to keep up all issues but every possible resource is used to do so and resources are limited.

"But each year we are able to do more than last year," he said. "As we get more funding, more equipment and more people."

Another issue has been working through the intricacies of regulations and permitting processes at the local and state levels, including the Erosion and Sediment Control inspections on the county level and the DEQ.

"We continue to improve that," he said, as all involved try to be on the same page. "Every situation is a little different and may require a different permit."

A full-time engineer has been hired to help out, he added.

"We do a good job and we will try to do a better job," he said.

That process received a boost last week.

According to an article in the TimesNews in Coeburn, Va., state regulators and the Southwest Regional Recreation Authority (SRRA), which oversees Spearhead, have reached an agreement to correct any problems on the trials.

The Authority and Spearhead Trails agreed to implement policies procedures to comply with state environmental regulations on water control and for the authority to notify DEQ before any trail construction or modification.

The article said the SRRA must include more comprehensive rules for trail permit holders and post signs explaining the consequences of violating rules and a plan must be submitted in six months with specifics in best management practices to comply with regulations.

Spearhead has trained six workers within the past year on erosion and sediment control inspections.

Jeff Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System, which covers hundreds of miles of trails across Southern West Virginia, said the organization works with state and federal entities to stay environmentally friendly.

"So far, we have been able to work with WVDEP (West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection) on our trails to ensure we have proper sediment control," he said. "We also utilize a stream management plan that outlines how we operate and best practices when near streams and with regards to sediment."

Luck said the federal government is also involved.

"All our base construction Is done using US Forest Service specifications on trail construction," he said.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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