Routt County Hikers, mountain bikers and motorcyclists are well on their way to traversing the Continental Divide Trail without interruption.
Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., pushed a bill through the House Wednesday that would allow the government to buy privately owned sections of the Continental Divide Trail. The legislation would help the government connect pieces of the trail, including a chunk just outside of Steamboat Springs, that are disconnected because parts of the trail are privately owned.
"These scenic and historic pathways are national treasures that this Congress should move to complete and preserve while it still has the opportunity," McInnis said in a prepared statement.
The Continental Divide Trail is more than 3,000 miles, but about 700 of those miles are privately owned. Hikers must figure out how to bypass the private land and find public land on which to camp.
About 10 miles of the trail near Muddy Pass is privately owned and would be available to the government if the bill were to be passed. The trail is used by hikers, bikers, ATVs, motorcycles and dirtbikes, though some portions are closed to motorized vehicles.
"We've been trying to get a right of way or an easement through those lands," said Ed Patalik, a recreation planner for the National Forest Service in Steamboat.
Hikers have to walk along Colorado 14 for about 12 miles at the Muddy Pass section of the trail, Patalik said. To connect the trail, Patalik said, the government would have to buy about five miles of trail.
McInnis' amendment will affect more than just the Continental Divide Trail, though. His Willing Seller amendments to the National Trails Systems Act will allow private landowners to sell on nine federally maintained trails throughout the country.
Under existing law, owners of land on those trails are forbidden from selling their land to the government for inclusion in the national trails system because of a clause added to the trails act in the 1970s. That clause has since been removed from the act. Out of 20 national trails, landowners on 11 of those trails can now sell their land.
"To administer an equitable national system of trails the authority for the trails should be consistent," McInnis said in a written statement to Congress.
McInnis' Willing Seller Act had enough bipartisan support to pass by a voice vote, which is normally used only for noncontroversial legislation. He is hoping the bill gets through the Senate and into the president's hands within the next couple of weeks, because this congressional session ends by mid-October. In the Senate, the bill is being carried by Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo.
Contingent on whether McInnis is re-elected in November, the bill may be delayed until the next congressional session, which starts in January. At that point, McInnis would have to take the bill through the entire process, from the committee level to the voting.
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