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Bridging the Gap Oregon/Washington BLM



Bridging the Gap

By design, the BLM's Shotgun OHV Trail System bridges the breathtaking thrills of off-road riding with the careful conservation of Oregon's natural forests.

story by Michael Mascari
photos by Mike Millay

"You don't think of anything but what's immediately in front of you. you have a variety of trails. you're concentrating on the challenge of getting your bike through the course. it's a great diversion from the stresses of life," says Jared Achepohl, Emerald Trail Riders Association.

For almost 20 years, the BLM's Shotgun Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Trail System near Eugene, Oregon, has been a favorite destination for dirt bikers and four-wheelers who love bouncing over rocky beds and muddy craters beneath a picaresque forested canopy. Covering over 35 miles, Shotgun's trails provide a diverse set of opportunities and challenges for riders of all abilities. Riders like Jared Achepohl say it's this very diversity of trails that is the key to its extraordinary riding experience.

"A small system really gets beat up and used. A good system has a lot of mileage which is hard to do in this area. A trail that incorporates different terrain features and provides challenging stuff makes for a great trail. Riders enjoy Shotgun because it has several different types of terrain."


Historically, the lands around the Shotgun OHV Trail System were plotted in a checkerboard pattern under a Congressional land grant during the 1860s. And while such a checkerboard layout of public and private lands may not have posed a problem in the 19th century, modern OHV riders haven't always known where BLM lands end and private lands begin. Unintentional trespasses have been a regular occurrence.

Bridging the Gap
photo by Mike Millay

To reduce this confusion while still protecting the land and providing a quality trail experience, the BLM developed the Shotgun OHV Trail System in 1993. The objective was to develop a progressive trail system that stayed within the confines of BLM lands while making use of an incredibly well-designed path allowing riders to cover a wide area of rideable land.


The BLM has so far maintained the Shotgun System by regularly incorporating new plans and refurbishing existing trails. But as its popularity increased, greater usage has caused some areas to become rutted and impassable. So to avoid getting bogged down, riders have left the main course to blaze their own trails, eroding soil and damaging the natural landscape.


Recognizing the need for a new generation of trail support, BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner Liz Aleman and Recreation Technicians Mike Fieber and Mike Millay took an inventory of all the necessary improvements needed at the Shotgun System. Avid riders themselves, the two Mikes had spent a great deal of time at other trails and wanted to improve the BLM's own offering.

"We rode the trail and, after seeing many deteriorated spots, we wanted to make a more permanent, sustainable system," said Fieber. "People don't want to ride in ruts and get stuck. They want good surfaces."

With Aleman securing the necessary funding, the two Mikes enacted a plan that differed from past iterations by incorporating state-of-the-art materials like geotextiles as well as cinder block, gravel, and large rock to both protect the integrity of the soils and ensure long-term preservation of the trails. The Mikes also obtained seeds and trees from the Eugene District to fill in old routes and rerouted trails to avoid streams.

Bridging the Gap
photo by Mike Millay

The new trails often seem more like a cobblestone road than a dirt path. Not only are they designed to last longer and protect the forest, they're also great for riding.

Regarding environmental concerns, Achepohl of the Emerald Trail Riders Association (ETRA) describes most riders as very interested in conservation. Protecting the integrity of trails is crucial to those who use them. He adds, "When you don't have enough trails people create their own, which harms the environment. And they can be risky or dangerous. We try to be good stewards of the trails so future generations can enjoy."


The Shotgun OHV Trail System wouldn't have been possible without the support of partners. Workers from the Northwest Youth Corps, the Oregon Department of Youth Corrections, and the BLM worked tirelessly to construct a trail system rugged enough to survive regular usage with a strong appeal to ensure riders use this designated system and not pirate trails. And the ETRA regularly organizes work parties to construct bridges, clear trail debris and brush, and build connectors. The Shotgun System is very much a part of its community.

"It's great," Achepohl said. "The two Mikes have been real proactive in getting more quality miles in the system. Due to the checkerboard factor and the private land around it, it's been a long hard road to build a quality trail system there. They've nailed it."


In the State of Oregon, riders must obtain a permit to operate OHVs and drive on OHV trails. The cost is $10 for a two-year pass. The money from these passes helps pay for trail and facility maintenance and wages for work crews. For more information, please visit http://www.oregon.gov/oprd/atv/permits.shtml