Travel Management plans are the United States Forest Service’s attempt to mesh off-road recreational needs with the preservation of forests and national grasslands. National forests are working on Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs) that clearly define where an off-road vehicle can travel in the national forests – and that, of course, includes boondocking RVers.
How Travel Management Plans in National Forest affect RVers and boondockers
When the Travel Management Plan is fully rolled out, all national forests and grasslands will issue free maps that clearly indicate where different types of vehicles may go. The rules differ in each forest, but you’re generally allowed to camp within 30 feet of any such indicated road.
To avoid expensive tickets – Cibola National Forest clearly states that its MVUM is “an enforcement tool” — you should always pay a visit to the forest’s website or swing by the local ranger station. This latter is always a good idea in any case; while the roads are likely to stay much the same from year to year, temporary Forest Orders and temporary closures will always supersede the map. The local ranger station and the forest’s website has the most recent information.
Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM) show where you can go in national forests
MVUMs are printed on good-quality paper, obviously intended to last a year or so, but could still use some improvement — for example, in the Kaibab National Forest, Williams District map, adding the name of all, not just some, communities would help travelers to orient. For example, Parks is missing. If you’re worried about being restricted, though, you can probably relax, as plenty of roads are still open.
Cibola National Forest notes that it will add signage, but all of this will take time. It may be worth investing in an official forest service map to help with orientation; if you drive on the wrong roads and are caught, it’ll be at your own cost. Not all roads are clearly labeled, or their number sign might be posted in only one direction.
Travel Management Rule: A response to increased off-road recreation
The Travel Management Plan came as a direct response to growing numbers of off-road vehicles that not only tore up existing roads, but sometimes created roads where none previously existed. According to Cibola National Forest, between 1989 and 2002, the number of people off-roading increased 109 percent, while the number of ATVs purchased increased 40 percent.
The idea of travel management has been in the works for decades. Executive Order 11644, “Use of Off-Road Vehicles on Federal Lands” was set up on February 8, 1972; it was later amended by Executive Order 11989 on May 24, 1977. These orders generally noted that off-road usage should be managed in national forests, but those writing the order had no idea that off-road recreation would become so ubiquitous.
Travel Management Planning law and background
The Travel Management Rule (36 CFR Parts 212, 251, 261, and 295) puts the original Executive Orders into practice by requiring all national forests to establish which roads can be used by off-roaders, which can be used by any street-legal vehicle, and which are strictly off-limits. Since USFS has 300,000 miles of roads open to vehicles and around 133,000 miles of trails, that’s no mean feat.
On July 14, 2004, a proposed rule was posted online and made available for comment; the final Rule was put into the Federal Register on November 9, 2005 and went into effect one month later.
The Travel Management Plan has involved both forest and industry experts, special interest groups, and the general public. The process begins with an environmental assessment whereby the national forest looks at the impact of motor vehicle use on the roads of each ranger district. This is put up for public comment. Then the Forest Supervisor’s office issues first a tentative Decision Notice, which is also put up for comment, and then a final one.
MVUMs make it a little easier to find boondocking spots
For boondockers, there’s something of a side-benefit to USFS’s Travel Management Plan. Having an MVUM gives you an idea where to look. The map doesn’t negate the need to use your brain when you see a road is so deeply muddy and rutted that travel would be disastrous, but it does help enormously when you’re heading into an unfamiliar forest for a spot of RV boondocking.
- Winter LTVA basics
- Winter hours at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
- 36 CFR Parts 212, 251, 261, and 295 Travel Management; Designated Routes and Areas for Motor Vehicle Use; Final Rule
- Cibola National Forest
- Kaibab National Forest
Do you boondock or dry camp, with or without an RV? Subscribe to this column or read it in your feed reader to get updates. You can also follow at the RV Boondocking Facebook page or on Twitter. Read articles on topics such as Winter LTVA basics and, of course, the USFS’s Travel Management plans.