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Motorized trail vehicles now permanently banned near Rapid River wild and scenic area

a couple of hikers and their dog walk a mountain trail with a hillside to the left and the Rapid River down to the right.
John Platt
Idaho Trails Association/used with permission
A couple and their dog hike a trail in the Rapid River Wild and Scenic Area.

The U.S. Forest Service this month made permanent a years-long ban on motorized vehicles in the Rapid River area northwest of New Meadows.

The Forest Service designated the Rapid River as wild and scenic in 1975 as part of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area Comprehensive Management Plan. District Ranger Dana Harris said generations of locals have spent many summer days running dirt bikes up the area’s single track trails, but that changed in 2010.

Restricting trail use in the Wild Rapid River corridor and the adjacent area was part of an agreement to settle a lawsuit between conservation groups and the U.S. Forest Service. One plaintiff in that lawsuit was the Idaho Conservation League.

"At that time an order was issued to stop all motorized travel until a new travel management plan was completed," explained the ICL's Randy Fox.

In making it permanent, the Service evaluated alternatives, including keeping some shorter motorized trails with turnarounds just outside the protected area, but determined only non-motorized use was most appropriate for all 25.7 miles of affected single track trails.

“We couldn't keep those trails across the [designated] wild and scenic [area]. But knowing people want connectivity, knowing people want loops that they can ride on, that's definitely helpful when we're making new management decisions,” Harris said.

Outdoors and conservation groups had advocated for the complete non-motorized plan and celebrated the announcement. In a tweet, the Idaho Wildlife Federation wrote that it, along with Trout Unlimited and the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, “applaud the Forest Service’s decision.”

"It's to protect critical habitat for chinook salmon and bull trout and a very important watershed for the Nez Perce tribe," said Fox.

But dirt bike lovers aren’t entirely out of luck. Harris says the Payette National Forest plans to work with locals to find alternative routes for motorized trail use.

“We're going to take a field trip out to the area south of the Rapid River around Lick Creek Lookout. There's a non-motorized trail there right now that we'd like to go look at and see if there are any options to route that so we have some east-west connectivity.

But that’s only an “idea,” Harris said. They’ll get to work once the snow melts.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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