Public Meeting with Congressman Gosar June 4 and Payson OHV Proposal public comment deadline June 6

Post submitted by Mary L. Little
Payson Horseman's Association

Some very important issues are coming up that will affect citizens of Payson, Pine, Star Valley, Ox Bow Estates, Round Valley, Mesa del Caballo, Freedom Acres, Wonder Valley and numerous other subdivisions bordering these communities:

June 4, 2014: Town Hall Meeting with Congressman Gosar - Forest Health.
Time:  3:00-4:30 pm
Location:  Messinger Funeral Home, 901 S. Westerly Rd., Payson.

This meeting will allow us to address Forest Health as it relates to the Payson OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) proposal and impacts to our communities. This meeting was prompted by the concerns of many citizens regarding the USDA Tonto National Forest, Payson Ranger District OHV Project Proposal, under the proposed Travel Management Plan.

June 6, 2014:  Extended deadline for public comments to the USDA Tonto National Forest on the Payson OHV Project.  

Send emails to:  comments-southwestern-tonto-payson@fs.fed.us  
Subject Line to read: Payson OHV Project

What's this About?

The following highlights what the Tonto National Forest proposes:

Convert the Houston Mesa Equestrian Campground to an “OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) Campground.” Create staging areas (parking lots) for OHV users bordering the Town of Payson next to the Payson Rodeo Grounds/Event Center; bordering the town of Star Valley next to private land near Mayfield Canyon; and bordering the town of Pine, next to private residences or businesses.

Significant Issues.

GILA WATCH NOTE:  As you read this, please remember that the Tonto Forest contains 3 million acres.  Only 4% of Gila County is privately owned.  Yet, the Forest Service wants to build this OHV site immediately adjoining privately owned, heavily populated areas. 

We oppose this proposed public land conversion for many reasons, including:

1.  Multiple levels of Forest Health and Community health and safety would be impacted through various OHV activities that would be dramatically increased at these particular sites and throughout our communities.

a. Threats to ecosystems, wildlife, soils, and watersheds from known irresponsible OHV use;

b.  Noise pollution

c.  Dust pollution

d.  Potential collisions with high speed OHV's

e.  Greater threat of wildfires

f.  Trash and petroleum products pollution

2.  The Houston Mesa Equestrian Campground was developed with donations and support from local businesses, equestrians in this community including the Payson Horseman's Association, and other organizations and individuals around the state.

3.  The campground facility sits directly behind a subdivision of horse properties. The OHV staging areas are in very close proximity to populated communities. The quality of life and the value of properties would be significantly impacted if OHV activities were officially promoted and increased at these locations.

4.  The USDA Tonto National Forest, which manages the reservations of the horse campground, stated the campground facility has been underutilized and wants to convert its use to OHVs. We disagree with this short-sighted statement, as the use of the facility includes several complicating factors:

a.  The gates have been continuously locked with no signage as to how or whom to contact to gain accessibility to the campground; certainly not user friendly. Signs of mismanagement!

b.  Recreation Resource Management, Inc. is the concessionaire based in Pennsylvania.  There have been many difficulties contacting this company locally and otherwise to make reservations.

c.  Current unofficial and proposed permanent mixed use with OHVs of the originally designated Equestrian only campground is incompatible and dangerous (i.e., OHV traffic at the campground facility and on surrounding trails is incompatible with hikers, bicyclists and horses).

d.  The Town of Payson and Tonto National Forest have not taken opportunities to promote the campground facility as it was intended to be used for equestrians. More mismanagement.

The United States Department of Agriculture/ Tonto National Forest is disregarding the citizens of these communities to benefit their control of the OHV recreation population. The Tonto National Forest has 3 MILLION ACRES of land and is the fifth largest in the United States. The Payson Ranger District alone consist of 450,000 acres and is equivalent to 700 SQUARE MILES. Surely with all this land available, the USDA Tonto National Forest can provide an OHV campground in an area that is more suitable and not in close proximity to our homes. Locations should be considered where OHV users/visitors may enjoy their interests without disrupting the health, safety, values of our homes and quality of life in ALL our communities.

There is funding available twice a year for OHV recreation development through the Arizona State Parks Department with upwards of $1.5 million annually. This could be used to develop new OHV recreation sites, rather than take away existing designated non-motorized campgrounds.