Mountain meadows are unique and important ecosystems nestled within the ponderosa pine forests of northern Arizona. They are highly specialized and diverse habitats, often boasting a higher-than-average variety of plant species.
However, meadows often pose a conundrum for public land managers. They tend to attract high visitation from people looking to enjoy the space and picturesque scenery but are particularly susceptible to trampling, overuse, and improper off-highway vehicle use.
The Ward Camp Meadow on the Flagstaff Ranger District of the Coconino National Forest was no exception. Located near the Kelly Motorized Trail System, the Ward Camp Meadow became a common camping area and staging ground for riders. Concerned about the possible further degradation of the mountain wetland meadow, The National Forest Foundation (NFF) partnered with Yamaha Outdoor Access Initiative, Pink Adventure Tours, and the U.S. Forest Service to protect this iconic meadow from unintentional overuse.
The Ward Camp Meadow was always well known but has gotten busier and busier in the last three years. The sharp influx in outdoor recreation during and after the pandemic contributed to record sales of campers and off-highway vehicles. Once word got out about the beautiful spot, the people kept coming. It became clear to the recreation staff on the Flagstaff Ranger District that additional mitigation efforts were needed.
“We didn’t want to remove recreation opportunities for those looking to enjoy the forest,” said Coconino National Forest recreation staff Pat McGervey. ”But we needed a responsible and sustainable way to manage visitors in the area. The National Forest Foundation had done some work in the area previously, and it had been a great partnership, so we were excited for their assistance once again.”
To improve riding access and protect the meadow, the partners worked with the Coconino National Forest and Arizona Conservation Corps to install 5,000 feet of rustic log fencing to help guide OHV users to authorized areas. The rustic look of the log fencing was intentionally chosen to maintain the scenic beauty of the location.
“The fence has been working well. Folks are now camping in the correct areas adjacent to the meadow,” said Mcgervey.
Mcgervey added he appreciated that the NFF chose to partner with the local Arizona Conservation Corps.
“It was nice to see a different group of workers than we typically use. It’s important the younger generation learn tangible land management skills and get involved if we want to sustain these lands into the future.” A grant of $28,000 was awarded to the NFF for this project as part of Yamaha’s Outdoor Access Initiative, promoting safe, responsible riding and open, sustainable riding areas.
The NFF also installed a two-panel informational kiosk at the junctions of Forest Road 700 and 236 in Ward Camp to advise nearby Kelly Motorized Trail System users about riding opportunities, regulations, and maps with preferred routes.
“Thankfully, companies like Yahama and Pink Adventure Tours understand the importance of these sensitive areas and have robust programs to help restore and protect them,” said NFF Southwest Program Senior Manager Sasha Stortz.
“By setting clear OHV routes and trails, we can protect a beautiful meadow and help visitors recreate responsibility,” said Coconino National Forest recreation staff Pat McGervey. “The U.S. Forest Service hopes that the installation of the fencing will decrease improper OHV usage by at least 50% and will allow OHV users to find the official OHV trail nearby.”
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