Southwest Virginia environmental watchdog group The Clinch Coalition is expressing concerns about negative impacts to streams and wetlands from some off-road vehicle trails.
According to Wally Smith, a biologist and the group’s vice-president, the coalition is primarily concerned about some locations where vehicle paths are routed directly through streams for about a half mile or where trail construction appears to have altered the natural stream flow.
Shawn Lindsey, executive director of the nearly 500-mile Spearhead Trails network, is aware of the group’s concerns, though the two disagree about the nature of one site. Lindsey states that the trail network’s goal is to improve the environment as resources allow. The Spearhead Trails system is managed by the state, and its trails are designed for ATVs as well as hiking, biking and horseback riding.
“A lot of these streams are really close to some threatened and endangered species populations,” Smith says, including the endangered Big Sandy crayfish. He notes that aquatic wildlife can be crushed by vehicles and streams diverted from their natural route can lead to problems with sedimentation and erosion downstream.
According to Lindsey, Spearhead has closed one trail section and recently secured grant funding to improve another area. He stresses that Spearhead cannot shut down many trail sections since they are on private land and also used by the landowner.
Smith acknowledges that Spearhead Trails has an important role to play in the area’s economic transition, and that many of the trails make good use of existing logging or mining roads. Going forward, he would like to see environmental agencies involved “to make sure that the right people are being brought to the table and there’s a good, inclusive conversation about how these trails are being built.”
Lindsey appreciates that The Clinch Coalition is looking out for water quality. “We have the solutions but they take time, funding, grants, permits, lots of different things,” he says. “It just can’t happen overnight.”
In the meantime, Lindsey says he wants to see people using the Spearhead Trails instead of illegal outlaw trails. “Even though we have problems, we’re still a lot better than those outlaw trails that don’t have anyone watching out for them or doing maintenance on them.” — By Molly Moore