(HELENA) The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is taking new steps to keep motorized vehicles off the shore of Canyon Ferry Reservoir.

“The off-road vehicle use crushes and denudes vegetation, destroys it,” said Lee Holmes, the bureau’s assistant facility manager at Canyon Ferry. “Then once that happens, increased risk of wildfire, increased risk of invasive plants. You also expedite erosion in these areas.”

Last week, workers with the Montana Conservation Corps installed steel posts in the middle of nine trails connecting private property and BOR land around the lake. They also placed grass seeds, to restore natural vegetation.

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Bureau leaders say those trails were never authorized. Federal codes don’t allow motorized vehicles to be used off-road on Reclamation land.

Some residents in the Canyon Vista Estates subdivision, off Woodridge Trail, are upset about the new barriers.

MTN spoke to multiple property owners who said for years they’ve taken all-terrain vehicles onto public land using these trails.

“This wasn’t about letting us do something,” said Damon, who asked MTN to use only his first name. “It was about blocking something that’s existed for decades.”

Damon sajd closing the land to vehicles will make it harder for older people and children to access these areas.

Holmes says the trails have existed for many years, but the environmental damage from off-highway vehicle use has become much more noticeable over the last 15 years.

“It’s getting a lot worse, and that’s why we decided to address it now,” he said.

Barriers and signs were installed on six trails near Canyon Vista Estates, along with three more off of East Shore Drive.

Damon said the installation of the new barriers came as a surprise to him when the Conservation Corps arrived last week.

But Holmes says the Bureau of Reclamation introduced the plan at two public meetings in Helena, including one in February. A presentation from that meeting, laying out the bureau’s concerns about OHV use and ideas for restoration projects, is available on the BOR website.

BOR leaders say property owners will still able to access neighboring public land on foot, by bicycle or on horseback.

“We don’t want to stop access to public lands,” said Holmes. “We just want to restrict the vehicular access.”

Holmes says reducing unauthorized vehicle use is an ongoing project. The bureau started several years ago, addressing trails around the Confederate, Goose Bay and Hellgate areas. They plan to keep moving north along the lakeshore, looking for more.

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