By Larry Reilly
USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs
The Panzer Training Area has become more of a recreational area for local bicyclists, joggers and dog walkers than an area for U.S. military training, which the federal government of Germany has designated it for.
The popularity of the area has not only overwhelmed it because of the number of people using it on a regular basis, it has created a serious safety concern, according to Craig Van Kirk, local training area coordinator, 7th Area Training Command.
“There are dozens of individuals, on a daily basis, who travel through the paths and trails on horses, bicycles, jogging, walking dogs, hiking, driving and parking cars and even picking mushrooms,” Van Kirk said. “They are placing themselves and military personnel in danger of having a serious incident. There have already been a number of incidents during the past year with unauthorized individuals coming in contact with military personnel and authorized individuals on the local training area.”
Van Kirk has reached out to the local Polizei, as well as the garrison Directorate of Emergency Services, for assistance in enforcing the no trespassing policy of the training area.
“During past military training sessions, we talked with the Boeblingen Polizei, who stated they would help deter the amount of people entering the training area by citing trespassers if necessary,” Van Kirk said. “It’s all about keeping everyone safe, especially during military training sessions.”
The safety factor increased twofold when mountain bikers created unauthorized trails and then built obstacles, such as jumps and curves along those unauthorized paths.
“There are several unauthorized bike or walking paths that have been built-up over time,” Van Kirk said. “Continued use of these paths have caused many of the trails and overall terrain to show signs of excess environmental damage and soil erosion, which is unnatural in this unique habitat that is actively managed by the USAG Stuttgart Department of Public Works.”
The training area is the home to dozens of species to include a number of sensitive species that require specific environmental conditions to exist and according to Inga Gebhard, garrison Environmental Protection Specialist, DPW, the overuse of the training area for recreational purpose has adversely affected the environmental ecosystem of the region.
“Sensitive species like the red backed shrike (Neuntoeter), tawny owl (Waldkauz), natterjack toad (Kreuzkroete) and the Bechsteins bat (Bechsteinfledermaus) are dependent on natural habitat areas,” Gebhard said. “The military training creates such habitat because we are able to plan and control where the training will take place and the impact the training will have on species in that area. Whereas, recreational activities are disturbing the area due to frequency of use, noise and soil erosion.”
Another concern with so many people venturing onto the training area throughout the day, is the trespassers are either unaware of the military training being conducted or are not paying attention.
“People have walked or rode right through an area where military training was being conducted,” Van Kirk said.
The concern for people’s safety promoted the 7th ATC and DPW to devise a plan to educate the general public of the fact the training area is off limits to all unauthorized personnel seeking a place to ride their bicycle or take a stroll through the woods.
“In the past, the U.S. Army and the German government have tolerated the unauthorized entry onto the military training area to an extent; however, the military training area has become a popular recreational area,” Van Kirk said. “The creating of unauthorized trails, and especially the buildup of obstacles such as ramps, jumps and curves, has gone too far, and such unauthorized use of the training area cannot be tolerated as a co-use any longer.”
The only authorized passage through the training area is on Musberger Straesse, and the Army has taken action to deter the use of the other locations people gain access onto the training area.
“We removed the built-up bike challenge obstacles on all the trails and have posted signs throughout the area that read ‘entry is prohibited, danger to life and unauthorized entry is prohibited,” Van Kirk said.
With an increase in military training scheduled in the near future, personnel responsible for the care and oversight of the area are hoping people who have been using the area for recreational purposes understand the area is off limits and adhere to the newly posted signs stating that message.
“We hope we will not need to, but if the number of trespassers’ gets to where we cannot control them, we will call the Polizei for assistance,” Van Kirk said. “We hope this will help deter the unauthorized use of the area, so we will not have to close all entries.”