A two-mile stretch of public road passing through Calvin Price State Forest has become a quagmire, which only the largest off-road vehicles can traverse. Local residents say the inaccessible condition has made the road a playground for mud boggers and ATV riders, who do not respect the adjacent State Forest.
The local Division of Highways is not maintaining the southernmost two miles of Route 21 in Pocahontas County, also known as Spice Run Road. Pocahontas County DOH Supervisor Sam McPaters said his department doesn’t have the resources to maintain the road, where nobody lives.
One local resident said he regularly witnesses illegal activity along Spice Run Road.
“Illegal ATV four-wheeler use, OHV, off-highway vehicles, mule-type vehicles, poaching of deer,” he said. “One person bringing three deer out at a time on their four-wheeler and loading it onto their vehicle, and then hauling it out via the vehicle. The deer poaching, that has been mostly during the week. But the ATV and off-highway vehicles has been mostly on the weekends.”
Illegal, off-road vehicle use in the State Forest is obvious when walking through the area. Detours have been created around giant mud holes, running onto State Forest property. Secondary mud holes have been created in the forest and even more trails used for detours. Everywhere the off-road damage has occurred, signs prohibiting ATV use are notoriously posted on trees.
DOH Region Eight District Engineer Mike Moran said the road could be closed.
“It’s a possibility,” he said. “It has to be requested by all the adjoining landowners. I don’t know who all is back there except the State Park. We would publish in the newspaper and see if there’s any interest in a public meeting and have a public meeting. Basically, if there’s any opposition from the public, then we don’t close the road.”
State law gives the Commissioner of Highways the final say whether a road will be closed. Moran said any petition to close Spice Run Road can be submitted to his office in Elkins.
When asked if mud bogging is a valid purpose for a public road, Moran said it’s a law enforcement function to prevent illegal activity on roads.
“Well, you know, we don’t regulate or enforce anything like that,” he said. “It’s public access. How it’s used, you know, we don’t have any way to enforce that.”
Division of Forestry State Lands Manager Barbara Breshock said her office has no authority to stop off-road vehicle use in the State Forest.
“That would be something that DNR (Department of Natural Resources) would have to be willing to take on,” she said. “Our agency, Division of Forestry, does not have the legal authority to enforce any of that down through there.”
Breshock said the activity has occurred for a long time.
“It is a concern,” she said. “It is an embarrassment to have something that looks like that, that goes through a State Forest. But it’s something that was inherited and it’s been going on for a long time. I’m not sure, at this point, what we might be able to do, other than, perhaps, try to come up with some kind of alternate route for folks, or alternate access, for people that want to get in there and utilize it for something other than mud bogging. That would be something that we would have to try to work towards.”
Watoga State Park Superintendent Mark Wylie has law enforcement authority for Calvin Price State Forest.
“Bear hunters use it and then we get a lot of four-wheel activity coming up from Little Creek on the far side,” Wylie said. “There’s a bunch of Forest Service property over there. That new wilderness is over there. Then, of course, Cal Price – and that’s where the four-wheel drive, ATV activity is tearing the area up. I put some signs up last year. I hear that a lot of them are coming down. We’ve tried that before. But they’re little plastic signs. I’m going to put them back up and try to give those guys some warning before we, you know, do any major law enforcement.”
Wylie said he can’t access the affected area of Calvin Price State Forest from the Pocahontas County side. Instead, he takes a long detour through Greenbrier County.
“We can’t get to it, either, without driving an hour-and-a-half around,” he said.
The superintendent said he would like to have the road closed, but any decision to file a road closure petition has to be made by his superiors.
“I would have to start with my central office in Charleston to see what they would want me to do there,” he said. “I’m sure the bear hunters and other groups like that will be staunchly against it.”
Wylie said the Division of Forestry is building a new road in the eastern portion of Calvin Price State Forest, that could provide an alternative route, once completed.
“The new road is aimed for the top of Spice Ridge,” he said. “I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen there, but I’m hoping we can offer that road up as a replacement for that road that goes down the hollow, that’s in such bad shape.”
Wylie said the new road, being built to accommodate timber sales, won’t be completed anytime soon.
In the meantime, he said he would increase patrols in the affected area.
“I guess we’ll try to up the patrols,” he said. “But, like I said, all I can do is, basically, get to the far end, if they come through far enough.”
Geoff Hamill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org