Within the past year, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and its Bureau of Forestry embarked on a series of projects to add 29 miles to the existing 247 miles of ATV trails on state forest land.
As the agencies gear up for the main riding season - from Memorial Day through the last weekend in September - several projects are complete but work continues on the others.
All of the work was done through grants from DCNR's Community Conservation Partnership Program, which supported 43 recreational trail projects across Pennsylvania.
In 2011, the following existing regional trails were extended or improved. On some, improvements continue to be made.
* A 1-mile connector trail in Susquehannock State Forest, 100 percent complete;
* A 20-mile enhancement and expansion of Jack's Mountain trails in Bald Eagle State Forest, 25-30 percent complete, with on-the-ground trail construction being done in-house. The project involved enhancing and stabilizing former fire breaks and skid trails;
* A 6.6-mile addition to Bloody Skillet Trail in Sproul State Forest, 100 percent complete.
Other work is happening in Buchanan State Forest in Franklin, Fulton and Bedford counties and Delaware State Forest in Pike, Monroe, Northampton and Carbon counties.
Sproul State Forest
Since 2002, the Bloody Skillet has been a popular, DCNR-regulated ATV trail. Some sections are open during closed seasons to motor vehicles.
The ATV trail system maintained by DCNR's Bureau of Forestry has gone through multiple phases since Matt Beaver, DCNR forest program manager and the Bureau of Forestry's recreation section chief, began his tenure in central office.
The agency recently added a 6 1/2-mile connector that spans Beech Creek to Box Run and meets up with Snow Shoe's Rails To Trails system, which consists of trails and designated township roads open to ATVs. The connector was completed last September.
Happy riders, difficult trail
Wayne Yahn, president of the Central Mountains ATV Association, said his club is happy the connector was put in but voiced concern about that particular connector.
He and other riders are worried that a section that connects the Bloody Skillet Trail to the Snow Shoe rail trail is too steep and that once a rider is on the connector, he has no alternative but to commit to riding it.
The ATV trail systems on state forest land are rated on the National Trail Classification System. Trail colors, illustrated on trail maps, identify each trail's riding difficulty. Green is easiest, blue is more difficult and black is most difficult.
This section of the connector is rated black.
"Black is a committed stage of trail," Yahn said, and is meant for more experienced riders.
The trail's steep, continuous incline can make it dangerous in certain conditions, such as when it is icy or very wet and muddy.
"We don't disagree with having it there for that kind of challenge, but we would like an alternative connector," Yahn said. "We have people scared to ride that trail (section) right now."
His club worked with other groups to bring the concern to DCNR's attention and the agency is aware of the issue and is working to change it.
"We know about that particular spot," Beaver said. "It was identified soon after the trail opening last September."
He said there are plans to create a "climbing turn," which should then make the trail feasible for all levels of riders.
A climbing turn is a "turn used to change directions and gain elevation at an acceptable grade on side slopes of less than 20 percent. A climbing turn maintains grade through the turn, whereas a switchback is level or nearly level through the turn," according to a definition Beaver provided.
The proposed fix will be addressed this season, Beaver said, and that section of trail will be closed temporarily.
Other than that repair, Beaver said riders can expect the Bloody Skillet system to be pretty smooth riding.
In Susquehannock State Forest, a 1-mile connector was developed to unite an unnamed ATV trail to designated township roads in Sweden Township, Potter County.
The connection was possible, Beaver said, due to the boost by county ATV clubs to have some of the adjoining township officials open their roads to joint-use, which are roads shared by licensed motor vehicles and ATVs.
"There are approximately 150 miles of township roads that are open to ATV traffic now accessible from our 43-mile ATV trail in the forest," he said.
That section's work is 100 percent finished.
In Bald Eagle State Forest, an additional 20 miles of trail will result from better use, enhancing and stabilizing former fire breaks and skid trails.
"We really wanted to improve that riding opportunity. We were looking to make an expansion within the footprint of the current 7-mile trail system," he said. "When complete, it will be a very nice riding system. It's approximately 25 percent finished at this time."
He said the agency will keep plugging away at its development this summer. The work will not close down the trail. Beaver expects it will be finished within another year.
All the trail systems in the state are a mixed bag of terrain, Beaver said.
Some trails are flat, semi-smooth, old logging roads. Others are tight and travel through thick woods. Still others sport large vistas where riders can see for miles on a clear day.
"You can travel from an open riding area to a meandering, serpentine trail through the woods of regenerating oak and aspen," he said.
The Bloody Skillet system features open areas where freestyle riding can be done. This includes hill climbs and open water holes.
ATVers can spot a variety of wildlife while out on the trails - everything from deer, grouse and even bear.
A rider could spend a weekend in the Bloody Skillet area, following it into the Snow Shoe area, Beaver said.
All this work on the ATV trails is so the Bureau of Forestry can manage its multi-use forests in a way to make them accessible to various sectors of the visiting public.
Every year, the agency has to maintain the trails and make sure they have the proper drainage laid out to sustain them.
The bureau's end goal is to "improve the existing trail system now and protect the natural resources and, hopefully, make a more enjoyable ride," Beaver said.
Trails are monitored and patrolled by forestry rangers. Beaver said about 200 state forest officers also can regulate the rules and regulations.
"We have a number of employees that do checks on our trails and users," Beaver said.
They assure riders are wearing helmets, check for registrations, hand out maps and inform riders of trail alerts.
No dirtbikes allowed
Other off-road users should remember that designated ATV trails are not open to dirtbikes or dual-sport riders.
"All trails (that) have been designated for ATVs are closed to licensed vehicles and are restricted to registered ATVs," Beaver said.
Monies generated from the registration fees of not only ATVs but also snowmobiles are deposited in a restricted account.
"These funds are used by DCNR for running the ATV and snowmobile registration program, trail maintenance and rehabilitation, education and training programs for ATV and snowmobile youth users, grants-in-aid to municipalities and organizations to provide for snowmobile and ATV use opportunities on non-commonwealth owned lands, and enforcement activities," Beaver said.
The bureau does offer two motorized trailbike or motorcycle trails - the Seven Mountains Ramble and Shade Mountain Trail. Both are in Bald Eagle State Forest over portions of Mifflin, Snyder and Union counties.
"The Seven Mountains Ramble trails are designated for dual-sport (licensed for highway use) trail bikes and the Shade Mountain Trail is for non-licensed, off-highway trail bikes," he said.
"Otherwise, all licensed, registered and insured motorcycles and dual-sport bikes can travel on our open state forest road system, consisting of 2,620 miles," he said.
Copies of trail maps are available by calling the Bald Eagle State Forest office at 922-3344.
The state's ATV trails are closed until May 25.
Riders always should check with the state forest for open and closed trail systems. Trail maps and ratings are available at www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/atv/atvindex.aspx.