Allison Barnes is an Outdoor Recreation Planner at the Buffalo and Newcastle Field Offices of the Weston Hills Recreation Area in Wyoming. She has a Master of Science degree in Forest Resources from the University of Georgia, where she majored in Natural Resources Recreation and Tourism. Earlier this year, she was awarded a scholarship for the Marshall University On-Line OHV Recreation Management Course. This scholarship was funded by the Nick J Rahall II Appalachian Institute (RTI); it is administered by the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC). We checked back with Allison to find out more about her career and the on-line course she took.
How did you hear about the scholarship?
It went out on an email to all the recreation planners, through our state recreation lead. I got the email a few days before the application deadline last December and put in for it.
Did you like the idea of an on-line course?
Yes. The BLM and all federal agencies have had their travel restricted significantly, so we’re looking at very constrained funding for going to training. I had never received formal training in OHV trail construction, so this worked out great.
Your application said the BLM received a $64,000 grant to restore and create OHV trails at Weston Hills. Did the class help you with that project?
It was perfect timing. We have about 8-1/2 miles of trail on BLM surface and we are looking to expand that in our EA (Environmental Assessment), providing an additional 6 miles of trails. The class is helping me find out if it’s going to be feasible to use an old abandoned route to create additional miles of trails for motorized recreation, which is our goal.
Did you get college credit for the class?
I do think it was for credit. I already have two degrees, so this was more for professional development. I wanted to make sure that the information and considerations we were putting into our trail planning effort would be as good as they could be. That was the driver for taking this class.
Was there any part of the class that stood out for you?
The instructor did a good job of compiling different sources. She did the literature review for us. We were given assignments to read, then write about it in our own words. So on every assignment, I tried to tie it back to how it applied to my field office. A lot of the information was common sense, but there were some innovative tools for sight-specific stuff, like mitigating trails through wet areas. I was able to watch the construction of a puncheon on a video. There was a wide variety of material on planning for motorized recreation use. Water control is a huge one. It wasn’t an engineering class per se, but they gave me the tools as a recreation planner to know what to look for when I go to my engineer.
How has it helped you on the job?
This course helped me a lot. We learned a lot about positive controls on trails, that scenic vistas are important to motorized recreation too. It’s valuable to have that pointed out to land managers. Weston has some of the most beautiful views in northern Campbell County, and I’m excited that we’re going to be able to create some new recreation opportunities.
Did the class help you in the process of writing a Travel Management Plan?
I’m really happy I could take this course while we were doing the Travel Management Plan. BLM is changing its Travel Management goals, so as we get close to signing our Resource Management Plan Record of Decision, I’ll be writing Travel Management Plans for all of our management areas. Weston is the one we are focusing on to provide off-highway vehicle opportunities, so that’s where we’ll get the best benefit. It will also be important in some of our other recreation sights.
What are the main challenges you face at Weston Hills?
We have about 9,000 acres of public surface. It’s one of three areas over 1,000 acres that has public access in Campbell County, so we do have to consider a couple things. One is that we want to provide access to hunters, and so we want to keep impacts to wildlife from OHVs to a minimum. But it’s 25 miles from a population center and we really want to meet the desire of the folks that live in Gillette to have a safe place to ride and a trail system that’s going to meet their needs and provide an appropriate level of challenge.
Did the class help you look at trail planning differently?
We’re seeing a lot of unauthorized off-road use, which to me is an indicator that we’re not meeting the needs, that there’s more demand than there is opportunity. So I’m trying to figure out how to do it in a good way, that’s going to provide opportunity yet still provide resource protection. I think we can come out with a win-win. We’re trying to incorporate hill climbs and other positive control points that we talked about in the class. I’m very optimistic about how we’re going to accomplish this. And it makes sense. It’s a half an hour from a town with 20,000 people.
Would you recommend the class to others?
I would recommend it. It’s real good training for folks who are interested.
Did you grow up riding ATVs or motorcycles?
I have only ridden a motorcycle once, and it was up to 18 mph in second gear. I am not an ATV enthusiast, it’s not something I do on my personal time. I am an avid hiker. So it is ironic that I took this on because my passion is backcountry wilderness travel. But I see that motorized recreation is a really legitimate, desirable recreation activity for a lot of Americans. I figured I better get educated on it if I was going to be meeting that need in my field office. It’s no different than any other recreation opportunity that we manage for, and I’m excited about what’s happening at Weston.
Thanks Allison! NOHVCC and RTI offer our congratulations and wish you the best in your career in OHV recreation management.