Buff Pass non-motorized use areas being debated

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— Members of the Routt Winter Task Force and Forest Service officials drove snowmachines up Buffalo Pass last week to begin hammering out a plan for establishing non-motorized boundaries in the area.

The group of about 10 people stopped at four spots to point out areas that could be considered for nonmotorized use.

Jim Linville, the president of the task force, explained that it is important to nonmotorized users to have an area that is easy to get to and will be free of motorized traffic.

The lower Soda Creek drainage, northeast of the switchbacks on Buffalo Pass Road, meets those criteria, he said, and suggested that it be designated for non-motorized use.

Snowmobiles likely can't get into to most of that area because of tight stands of trees, he said.

The other three sites looked at were the upper drainage of Soda Creek, the north fork of Fish Creek and Buffalo Mountain.

"Now that we've looked at these areas, we'll be able to talk about the options," said Ed Patalik, a recreational planner for the Forest Service.

The task force recently established non-motorized areas on Rabbit Ears Pass, but doing the same thing on Buffalo Pass may be a far greater challenge.

"It's way more difficult with the hybrid skiers and the Powder Cats," task force member GiGi Walker said.

Unlike Rabbit Ears, Buffalo Pass sees a lot of hybrid users, which are people who use snowmachines to get to spots to ski or snowboard down. Often, they taxi back up the mountain for multiple runs.

That irritates skiers and snowshoers who are making a long hike up the mountain to take only one run, Sandy Buchanan pointed out to the group.

Powders Cats, a backcountry skiing operation, has permits to take clients via tracked snow machines to much of Buffalo Pass. However, the company does most of its work on Buffalo Mountain, south of Buffalo Pass Road.

"That's our bread and butter," said Toby Hemmerling, part owner of Powder Cats.

Powder Cats' problems come from weekend, nonresident snowmobilers who drive directly up the side of the mountain without showing respect by preserving the powder for skiers, he said.

Instilling a sense of mutual respect for all types of use in the area is key to the nonmotorized discussion, Patalik said.

"It's a subtle ethic that we're talking about," he said.

The Forest Service doesn't like to restrict access to areas anymore than it has to, he said. If people can preserve the snow and respect each other's wishes, then less stress will be created between users.

That's a difficult task, especially when the people who have to give up use are the snowmobilers, task force member Bob Mayfield said.

During the four scenic stops, tensions rose between the diverse group of backcountry users, especially with talk of taking access away from some groups.

Nonetheless, Walker said she appreciated the ability of such a diverse group to come together to solve a problem.

"It's so neat for Ed (Patalik) to bring us all out there -- all the different factions -- for us to decide what we're doing," she said. "It's the only place in the country that this is happening."

The Forest Service still has the last say of what happens on Buffalo Pass, Patalik said. However, compromises made by the task force are important guides in that decision.

The group hopes to have some conclusions by next winter, but it is still looking for input.

"The task force is trying to incorporate more of the hybrid users, especially on Buffalo Pass," Patalik said.

Anyone interested should contact the local Forest Service office.



-- To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail dcrowl@amigo.net

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