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Motorized Trail Project Proposed in Crockett County
AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission on Nov. 3 delayed a proposal for a $1,359,500 grant to the Texas Motorized Trails Coalition, a not for profit organization, to acquire 3,329 acres in Crockett County for the purpose of developing a managed off-highway vehicle recreation area.
After hearing public testimony for and against the grant proposal, the commission voted to postpone land acquisition for the project. Commissioners directed TPWD staff to work with parties involved to try to bring to the Jan. 26 commission meeting recommendations to accommodate concerns of some neighboring landowners.
Two recently enacted state laws are driving the creation of new off-highway vehicle recreation areas in Texas.
The 78th Texas Legislature enacted Senate Bill 155 several years ago, which closed all navigable stream beds in Texas, except for some parts of the Canadian and Red Rivers, to motorized recreational vehicles. That law also directed the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to “facilitate development of sites for motor vehicle recreation other than protected freshwater areas.”
The more recent 79th Texas Legislature last year enacted Senate Bill 1311, which created an off-highway vehicle trail and recreation area program under the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. One of the stated purposes of this program is to establish and maintain a public system of trails and other recreational areas for use by owners and riders of off-highway vehicles.
Funding sources for motorized trails and off-highway vehicle recreation areas in Texas include an older federal gasoline tax and a newer state off-highway vehicle decal that was created by SB 1311 but has not yet been put in place.
The National Recreational Trails Fund (NRTF) is providing the sole source of funding for the Crockett County grant. This is an 80-20 matching grant that requires the trails coalition to come up with an additional amount equal to 20 percent of the federal grant. These grant funds come from a portion of the federal gas tax generated by gasoline purchases to utilize off-road recreational vehicles, such as off-road motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles. The purpose is to create new and maintain existing motorized and non-motorized recreational trails. A federal requirement is that 30 percent of the funds be spent on motorized recreational trail projects, 30 percent on non-motorized trail projects, with the remaining 40 percent discretionary.
The department is now working with vehicle dealers and others to implement the SB 1311 requirement that a person buying a vehicle sold for off road use on public land in Texas must purchase an annual decal. Revenue from decal sales will provide funding for land acquisition and improvements at existing OHV venues. For the first year of the program, the OHV decal will cost $8 and will be current from Jan. 1-Aug. 31, 2006. After the first year, OHV decals will be good from Sep. 1 through the following Aug. 31, matching the TPWD fiscal year. Department staff and other parties involved are still developing a system to sell, distribute and enforce decals, modeled on the TPWD boat registration program. OHV decals should be available for sale beginning in December, and enforcement of the program will begin Jan. 1. A person caught riding on public land without a decal after Jan. 1 could be issued a citation and fined.
The Texas Motorized Trails Coalition has a track record of developing and managing off-highway vehicle recreation areas in Texas. The organization has operated the 1,800-acre Barnwell Mountain Recreational Area in Upshur County in Northeast Texas since 2000. Facilities include showers, restrooms, an air station, pavilion, office and campsites with R/V hookups and electricity.
In 2003, the trails coalition submitted a grant proposal to acquire 2,200 acres in Uvalde County to develop it into an off-road vehicle recreation area. The project was brought to the TPW Commission in August 2003 but was ultimately discontinued after issues were raised concerning access to the property. Since then, the TMTC has been searching for a more suitable site.
The Crockett County site was chosen because of its remoteness, good paved access and low likelihood to impact natural or cultural resources. Access to the site is via state highways, a paved two lane county road and a deeded easement offered by an adjacent landowner who supports the project.
The department held two public meetings in nearby Ozona this fall to get community input and has also done an initial survey of natural and cultural resources. Several people expressed concerns at a Sep. 13 meeting in Ozona, and a more formal public hearing was conducted and recorded on Oct. 6 to identify specific issues. Concerns voiced at the hearing and in written correspondence involve the possibility of increased traffic, noise pollution, grass fires and erosion. The TPWD staff believes these concerns can be addressed by controlling site development to make sure there are adequate visual and noise buffer zones along the perimeter, plus good fences to control traffic and prevent trespass between the site and neighboring land. The trails coalition has said there are two water wells on the property with 20,000 gallon storage, and the group intends to create a fire substation on site.
Regarding erosion concerns, the site contains no running streams or springs. The project calls for silt retention structures to minimize off-site erosion run-off during storm events, which would be constructed before the site is opened to the public. Few, if any structures on adjacent properties are visible from the acquisition site.
After the site is acquired, all necessary natural and cultural resource clearances and permits would be obtained prior to construction. TPWD would oversee development of a site management plan to guide development, and the department would continue to have oversight and control after the OHV park is operating.
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