ELKO — By all accounts, it’s going to take some time for the public to get used to the U.S. Forest Service’s motor vehicle use maps.
The maps — which were recently released for the Mountain City, Jarbidge and Ruby Mountain districts and are available at district offices and online — are a tool designed to instruct land users which roads are open to the public.
The Forest Service changed policy in 2005 from being open to motorized travel unless marked otherwise to being closed to motorized travel except on designated roads.
The process of collecting public comment and cataloguing more than 1,990 miles of roads delayed the release of the maps.
Although the maps are in print, the Forest Service is asking for continual feedback. Comment sheets are available at the district offices, according to District Ranger Wendy Fuell.
“We’re collecting all the comments and we know that with the motor vehicle use maps, there’s going to be some errors and things we need to correct. Our ultimate goal is to make them more public-friendly,” Fuell said.
The black-and-white maps come in large, loose five-page sheets. The front page includes an overview of the district and a legend. Subsequent pages depict smaller areas within the district in greater detail.
The map style is standard for all national forests, according to Fuell. Closed roads won’t be marked or obstructed, according to Deputy District Ranger Matt Boisseau.
Some residents, though, are concerned that the maps will cause more confusion than clarification.
“The maps are intended to show what roads are open or closed. Unfortunately, they don’t provide the user enough information to see where they’re at,” said Assistant County Manager Randy Brown.
Having lived in northeastern Nevada for many years, Brown said he’s done a lot of outdoor recreation, and even he’s had a difficult time reading the maps. He suspects visitors or novices will struggle immensely.
“To try to determine whether they’re on the right road or wrong road, it’s next to impossible,” he said. “(The maps) look like a bunch of squiggly lines on a piece of paper. There’s not enough information where you are in relation to the map.”
Fuell said the lack of landmarks is an issue that many people have raised.
“There’s not a whole lot of distinguishing features. You don’t see your creeks, you don’t see your mountain peaks,” she said.
That’s because the maps serve a specific but limited purpose: to show the public which roads are open and when they are open.
They aren’t designed to be stand-alone, Boisseau said.
The public is encouraged to use the motor vehicle travel maps in conjunction with Forest Visitor maps — which can be purchased at district offices for $10 apiece — wilderness maps or topographic maps of the area.
Elko County Manager Rob Stokes is skeptical of a dual-map system, however.
“To take that map plus another map and combine the both of them, it still might cause some problems,” he said. “First, I don’t think most people will do that. And second, it might still be confusing.”
Larry Hyslop, Great Basin College instructor and author of numerous hiking guides, shared Stokes’ sentiment.
“You have to have this map plus a regular Forest Service map because this doesn’t show a lot of features and topography,” he said. “It seems it’s going to be pretty hard for people.”
Commissioner Charlie Myers said he spent time on public land Saturday and noticed hardwood signs are being replaced by Carsonite markers to conform with road numbers on the maps.
He said he’s concerned the new signs will be difficult for travelers to use to determine their locations. Fuell said about 75 percent of the roads had been marked with signs as of Tuesday.
Hyslop also said he would find it more helpful if the maps marked which roads are closed, as opposed to leaving them off altogether.
Commissioner Grant Gerber criticized the maps, calling them hard to read and hard to understand. Gerber also criticized the Forest Service’s plan to close a portion of the roads and eliminate all off-road travel except a half-mile elk retrieval exception that is permissible between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., once a year.
“It’s nothing more than a joke,” he said. “… This tightening and eliminating of roads and off-road use is, in my opinion, the final act by the Forest Service to eliminate economic use of the National Forest.”
The Forest Service is inviting the public to share their comments, Fuell said. Ideas will be compiled and analyzed with a goal of updating the maps as needed.