Happy trails: Athens#039; loss helps county

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 14, 2005

You might find the great outdoors to be a little more crowded if you venture to the Ironton Ranger District of the Wayne National Forest in this and coming months.

January flooding has caused the Athens- and Marietta-area trails to be closed to off-road vehicles, horses and mountain bikes beyond the scheduled April 15 opening. The trails are currently open to foot traffic.

Though that has been bad news for Athens, it has created quite a spike in activity for Ironton Ranger District trails.

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Gloria Chrismer, Ironton District Ranger for the WNF, estimated at least a 50-percent increase in traffic has been seen in the Ironton district, though efforts are currently under way to find out a more accurate figure.

Most of the increased traffic, Chrismer said, has been created by off-road vehicle traffic, with a minimal amount by equestrians or bicycles.

The increase in traffic has caused some additional headaches for Ironton District employees.

Sanitation has been an issue, one that Chrismer hopes to correct by installing new portable toilets at some of the trails.

Also, so the additional ORVs do not do too much damage to the Ironton-area trails, Chrismer currently has contractors working to help keep them in tip-top shape.

Whenever there is more forest population, there is more of a chance for the occasional spat about a campground and the like. Chrismer is working hard to limit those sorts of issues too.

"We're trying to patrol the area, to keep problems to a minimum," Chrismer said. "It's kind of crowded out there."

Though the Athens closure has meant additional work for the rangers, Chrismer believes that will help drive additional dollars into Lawrence County and the Tri-State.

She offered an example of a family she spoke with who had traveled from Dayton to use the Ironton trails and who were planning on staying for an entire weekend.

"Do the arithmetic, they eat, they sleep," Chrismer said. "A lot of them bring their campers, but that doesn't mean that everybody in the family is there with them all day. They may be shopping, or they may be out and about."

Chrismer said she believes Athens and Marietta trails will re-open sometime in July, which will mean the end of those additional dollars in our region, but also a little relief for our forestry service workers.