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Off-roading responsibly in Black Hills National Forest

Road and trail closure near Botany Canyon
Krystal Miga
Road and trail closure near Botany Canyon

One summer activity gaining popularity with residents and tourists alike is off-roading. South Dakota boasts more than 3,800 miles of roads and trails for motorized vehicles.

But, it’s not as simple as hopping on an All Terrain Vehicle and heading for the hills.

The Black Hills National Forest manages motorized vehicle use, or OHVs, on federal forest land. OHVs can include everything from Jeeps and Land Cruisers to all-terrain and utility vehicles to dirt bikes and more.

Jeff Burdine is the Motorized Trail Superintendent with the Black Hills National Forest. He said the biggest violations he’s seeing on forest roads and trails are vehicles wider than the maximum-allowed 62 inches and operators driving on muddy trails or outside designated routes.

Although any one of these violations can result in citations or fines, Burdine says the real consequence is damage to the forest and wildlife and the impact to other forest trail users.

“So it can be anything from vegetation which then can impact range permittees. So you have user conflict there. Those wildlife closures are for migration areas or bird nesting that can cause disturbance in their elk calving or deer, dropping babies in the spring, all those closures are there to protect the wildlife," said Burdine. "Also a lot of the users don't just ride OHVs. We have fishermen and hunters and things like that so that it's all impacted together.”

Burdine says they work closely with the public to educate them on all the rules. But the ultimate responsibility lies with the operator, so they should know the motor vehicle licensing rules unique to South Dakota, as well as the Tread Lightly principles.

“There's a lot of people who have never done this before and so just making sure we're doing things sustainable not doing a bunch of impact and keeping things open," said Burdine. "But just acknowledging how unique it is here compared to other areas and protecting that and not, you know, not being the black eye of the recreation opportunities on the forest.”

More information on motorized vehicle licensing, safety, and Tread Lightly Principles can be found on the Black Hills National Forest website.

Krystal is the local host of "All Things Considered."