In 1993, an historic project took place which has served as a precedent for all those to follow. A joint venture between the National Forest Service of the Nicolet National Forest located in Northern Wisconsin, and numerous user groups were assembled. Other governmental and private agencies involved were the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Oconto County, Riverview Township and the ANR Pipeline company. The user groups consisted of Trout Unlimited, Iron Snowshoe Snowmobile club, Thunder River Ranch as well as the Wisconsin 4-Wheel Drive Association.---------------------
the Pipeline Thunder Rivers Restoration Project: In a landmark cooperation effort between the Government and Trail Users, the plan to save the usage of this trail was set into action. PYT's Randall Thomas, on the behalf of the Wisconsin 4-Wheel Drive Association, spearheaded the creation, organization and implementation of this entire project solely by himself. With the assistance of numerous board and club members, the Creation of this effort was now in full swing, in what others proclaimed to be a several year project, Randall said he could do in a month! They said it couldn't be done, and no other group initially offered support in this monumental, and possibly impossible effort. A month later, everything was put into place, and the Project was a full "go." Randall was in charge of getting the all the clubs together, logistics of materials, equipment, facilities, foremen, workers, food, shelter and operation headquarters set up, which turned a little section on this formerly vacant trail into a small metropolis called Pipeline City, for the weekend. The namesake of this project also created by Randall, was emblazoned on commemorative T-Shirts made just for the event, which bore the logo of a Forest official and a trail user shaking hands on a newly built bridge. Randall was also in charge of the undertaking of the design and printing, as well. This was the perfect representation of what was happening here, in the remote wilderness of the Wisconsin Northwoods.
a little History: The Eastern Nicolet, located in Oconto County, bears one of the most historic and well known trails in the country… called "the Pipeline." This trail right-of-way, edges along the route where a natural gas Pipeline was laid underground in the late 50's. This seldom used and difficult to find trail has been a 4-wheelers haven for close to 40 years. The Pipeline is agreeably one of the most challenging mud-type trails in the country. Typical holiday weekends would see about 200 vehicles there to enjoy this scenic, remote and unchanged northwoods paradise.
along the Way: PYT Member, Randall Thomas had been working very closely with the Forest department in efforts to keep cooperative relations as well as trying to secure the privilege of fellow 4-wheelers of using this area. The offer was always extended in making it known that the 4 wheeling community was more than willing to help out, if ever needed. One day, that offer would be made good on.
the Problem: After years of normal usage, two stream crossings near the northern end of the Pipeline were subject to scrutiny, as usage caused an increased silt problem to the river habitat, and a remote fish hatchery down stream. An agreement among forest users to keep stream crossings to minimum speeds prolonged the inevitable, but a solution was needed to eliminate the problem completely. The Forest Department's first decision was to barricade the stream crossings from any further passage by motorized vehicles. This of course worked for a while, however, irresponsible users of all type went around the barriers, thus resulting in the all too common "criminals having access where the law abiding person did not." Another plan was needed, or the entire Pipeline would be in jeopardy of possible closure.
a Temporary Fix: In the mean time the local snowmobile club, in light of the problem with the two rivers, built a snowmobile bridge across the North Fork of the Thunder River for snowmobile access in the winter. For a time, this permanent bridge was also used by others, including 4-wheelers, to bypass the sensitive river crossing. This well built, steel I-beam bridge was intended to withstand the weight of a trail groomer, however, the steel I-beams lying hidden under the wooden planked deck, were spaced much narrower than the typical automotive wheel stance. The result of the unevenly supported vehicle weight caused the deck to give way, allowing the tires to plummet through the deck surface. Once again, the trail was closed.
the Plan: In order to keep the Pipeline Trail an uninterrupted trail as it always had been, a way to protect these river crossings had to be devised. Gating them off certainly solved the Forest Managers problem, but created a bigger one for users. Luckily, Forest officials were also in agreement, and this historic Project was born. Two heavy duty 10' wide by 26' long free spanning wooden bridges were needed to be built over both the North Fork and the South fork of the Thunder River.
March 5, 1993: Lakewood District Forest Manager Larry Strecker wrote Randall Thomas that legendary letter explaining the need to implement a plan, in order to keep trail use flowing though these two points in question. A meeting attended on March 16th near Mountain, WI., sealed the fate of what is now the Historic Pipeline Project.
March 6, 1993: Randall Thomas contacted the Lakewood District Forest Manager Larry Strecker by phone to indicate the Wisconsin 4-Wheeler's readiness, and expressed the interest that this project go forward immediately without any further delay. Randall put his word on the line by "guaranteeing the Wis. 4-Wheelers CAN be counted and relied upon for such an important project as this." The Forest officials were impressed.
March 16, 1993: A committee from the Wisconsin Four Wheel Drive Association attended this very vital meeting regarding the future of this trail area, and the project at hand. Among the 23 people in attendance, standing on behalf of the 4-Wheel Drive community were Randall Thomas (PYT), Harold Hoernke (4x4 Forever), Pat Jacobosky (PYT), Ken Dibble (PYT), Kevin Bak (4x4 Forever), Jeff Bajczyk (Badgerland), and Steve Scholler (Badgerland). The USFS was there, Trout Unlimited representatives, Snowmobile clubs members, local land owners, the DNR, and only one unofficial rep showed from the ATV groups of Wisconsin. Priorities from the Forest Department lists as follows… 1) Introduce minimal environmental impact resulting from any actions taken. 2) Keep wilderness as natural as possible, and free of man made structures. 3) Provide access for recreational groups to use their public lands.
March 26, 1993: Randall completed detailed letters informing all the W4WDA clubs of the project at hand, and requested their assistance in equipment, time and people. These pleas were met with eager responses from more than 14 Wisconsin clubs. Logistics for tools, equipment, expertise, vehicles and general labor were sought. Approximately 83 hours were absorbed into this effort, probably being the most difficult part of any project- the preparation.
April 27, 1993: Everything was set up at this point, and continual daily contact between Randall, the Forest Department and the clubs, was needed to organize people and equipment, and insure a successful turnout. This effort went not in vain! There was a sense of concern that there may not be enough help showing up on the day of the project. The Forest Service was deeply concerned as time went on, and no real visible signs of guarantee were evident, other than Randall's word. The project went forward, with everything relying on the attendance of the 4-Wheel drive community, since it was apparent that the few other user groups would not be able to muster the type of manpower that was needed.
June 5, 1993- National Trails Day: This was the first year the U.S. Government recognized a day dedicated just for the usage of public lands. Randall worked hard to speed up the project to fall on this meaningful day, and this was it! Even though several dates were offered by the Forest Service, they were successfully persuaded to take advantage of this new day.
the Project Itself: Once the weekend was at hand, what Forest engineers thought would take several weeks, was finished in only 7 hours. Enthusiastic 4-wheelers worked hand in hand with Forest officials, as well as fellow club members from Trout Unlimited and the Snowmobile Association. Two freespan works of art were completed in mere hours, by a crew of 149 volunteers. Both river banks were also restored and re-seeded. Besides that, all the associations involved donated large sums of money to assist in the material costs of this project, which was estimated at $24,000. PYT happened to donate the highest amount among the Wisconsin clubs as well. The Project was a success for both sides, and taxpayers never knew the difference on their bills! A plaque on each bridge commemorates this historic undertaking for all to witness. The incredible efforts put forth by all those that helped on the day of the event was a major factor in the success of this event. Never before was such an orchestrated and sophisticated effort accomplished in such a short time in the USFS history, in Wisconsin. We were all proud to be a part of that historic event.
The Final Numbers: Even though statistics alone do not necessarily spell success, the hard work of the individuals and managing offices involved are worthy on being mentioned. 160 persons from 14 Wisconsin 4x4 clubs, 2 governmental agencies and 1 other user group made this event a success. 135 of those participating were from the 4x4 Community, some 4-wheelers weren't even members of the W4WDA, but still wanted to help out!
The Big Pay Off!: Other than saving the Pipeline from extinction, the major benefit of this project, if for the very first time in Wisconsin, the "Four Wheeler" is now being recognized as an organized, tangible user group. This has opened numerous doors since then, and will continue to do so in the future. All this for one day out in the wilderness building two bridges. This of course, does not take into consideration the countless hundreds of hours of preparation and organizing time to get this project into the record books.
the Present: The Pipeline has since then survived the increased usage as a result of the new found awareness of the Project since 1993. As in anything, over use ruins it for everyone, and eventually, the Pipeline may fall victim as well. In the mid 90's, a Milwaukee based club had the opportunity to take a 4-Wheel & Off Road magazine along on a trail ride to 'show off' the Pipeline, whereas upon publication in the magazine, a detailed map was printed with directions right to the Pipeline's very core. Even though this was not wrong in itself, it caused the usage of this sensitive area to increase by 10 fold, to the point of nearing extinction. As an average of over 2,000 annual users wear the trails down to the bone, Forest Officials and local residents are now paying close attention to this area.
the Future: Threats of filling holes, and closing off trails will certainly demean the efforts of those people and organizations who originally saved the Pipeline, yet with all the over-usage taking place, there may be little choice in order to once again save the Pipeline form certain extinction. Both responsible four wheeling, and holding our ground in the resistance of others attempting to control and take away our sport is the recipe for success in this situation, as it has been in other campaigns against anti-recreationalists across the continent.
Trails Day, 2003: The event coordinator of the original project, Randall Thomas, is planning on setting up a 10 year reunion at the Thunder Rivers Bridge site on the Pipeline. This weekend will include additional trail maintenance to introduce new users to this landmark effort, and make them a part of history as well. Of course, planned trailriding will be the center point of the weekend The tentative date would be once again on National Trails Day, the first week in June, 2003. Keep tuned to this page, as this will be where the event information will be posted. You are all invited!
The PYT Offroaders Association has played a large part in preserving this legendary trail, and are proud of their efforts! They sponsor this site in commemoration of that historic year way back in 1993.
The Letter that Started it all…
March 5, 1993
To: Randall Thomas of the W4WDA
This letter concerns conditions at those locations where "the Pipeline" crosses the North and South Forks of the Thunder River in the town of Lakewood, Oconto county. At both of these location, considerable lengths of river bank have been destroyed. Stream flow has been altered. Habitat conditions for Trout have been negatively impacted. These conditions are no longer tolerable from a land management, water quality or fisheries perspective.
The bulk of this damage has resulted from indiscriminate four-wheel-drive use. Some has also resulted from ATV/motorcycle use. Snowmobilers have interest in the North Fork site. Fisheries people interests in both sites. Four-wheelers would like to continue to use this area.
We believe we have come up with a plan to both repair damages and also to provide for continued use of this area. The work to be done is the restoration to the damaged stream bank, and the construction of a bridge, at each site. We need the participation of all interested parties in these projects. We would plan to accomplish the work this spring.
We would like you or a representative from your organization to attend a meeting to plan this project. The meeting will set actual work dates and areas of responsibility. We now envision needs for cash, labor, trucks, and bulldozer. We would like to at least some indication as to what type of help, in what amount, your organization can contribute.
This meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 16th at 1 p.m. It will be held at the Armstrong Town Hall. This is located on Highway 32 about 2 miles south of Mountain.
We hope to see you at this meeting. However, if you can't make it, please contact me and I will provide any details you want.
The rest, as they say, "is History…"