A new trail system for off-highway vehicles or OHVs, nearly ten years in the making, officially will open to the public in Darby on Saturday.
A celebration at Rye Creek Lodge at 9 a.m. on Saturday will include guided rides, a barbecue and a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The festivities are in conjunction with Darby Logger Days, which celebrates the skill and bravery of those who work in the time-honored tradition of logging.
Darby Trails, in the Rye Creek and Sleeping Child Creek drainages, offers two loops for OHV riders.The longer OHV loop trail runs about 28 miles, and a shorter loop runs about 14 miles. Any off-road vehicle less than 50 inches wide qualifies as an OHV and is permitted on the trails.
The U.S. Forest Service purchased the land from the Darby Logging Company in 2005; at the time the landscape included clearcuts and was crisscrossed with unimproved logging roads. In addition to the human-caused impacts, the forest fires of 2000 exacerbated the deterioration of the area.
The logging and fires damaged the soils and negatively impacted the watershed with increased sediment levels, according to a Bitterroot National Forest press release. So the forest service and Ravalli County Off-Road User Association partnered to restore the land, decommission unnecessary roads, and make sure the new trails cut into the area are sustainable for the future.
Dan Thompson and volunteers from the Ravalli County Off-Road User Associations mapped out the area after it was acquired by the U.S. Forest Service from the Darby Logging Company. In three years, Thompson and two dozen volunteers contributed more than 1,300 hours of their time.
“It’s a good study in the impact of big wildfires and their aftermath,” Thompson said. “It’s a valuable addition to what’s available on the Bitterroot National Forest.”
The Darby Trails system will fill a much needed void in the Bitterroot Valley for OHV riders, according to Thompson. Prior to completion of the Darby Trails, most OHV riding available was on tough backcountry trails unsuitable for beginner riders.
“The Bitterroot National Forest has very few OHV trails in the first place, and the ones in the backcountry are challenging for novice riders,” Thompson said. “These are suitable for family groups and novice riders.”
Because of the extensive road system the logging company created, the Ravalli County Off-Road User Association only needed to build about two miles of new trail in order to make the loop system. Thompson said that the association made its recommendations after mapping the area extensively.