Trail markers misplaced

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— Local cross-country skiers who are marking old ski routes and changing existing trail markers on Rabbit Ears Pass are causing concern for the U.S. Forest Service.

Over the holidays, the Forest Service received phone calls from cross-country skiers who got lost while skiing on Rabbit Ears because someone moved trail markers, moved or damaged trail location signs and marked new routes off the backcountry trails they were on.

Ed Patalik, recreational planner for the Forest Service, said the Hogan Park Trail and the Fox Curve Trail have been fortified to mark older cross-country ski routes the Forest Service stopped maintaining 15 years ago.

The old V Shaped Trail, off the Fox Curve Trail, and the old A Shaped Trail, off the Hogan Park Trail, are the loops being marked.

Whoever is changing the ski routes has gotten so adamant about reviving the old trails, they drew the routes on the wooden trail maps at the trail heads of the areas, Patalik said.

Because the trails haven't been maintained in such a long time, the Forest Service is assuming the person doing it has been around the area for a while.

The Forest Service stopped maintaining the trails after numerous skiers got lost after they missed the sharp-angled turn-around points, which is how the old trails got their name.

Also, the V Shaped Trail leads skiers into the suggested motorized-use area on Rabbit Ears Pass, which makes it undesirable, according to the Forest Service.

Patalik said there may be some discontent about that with skiers, which could be the reason some of the signs are being damaged.

Just because the old trails aren't maintained by the Forest Service anymore doesn't mean people can't ski on them, Patalik said. Plus, cross-country skiers are allowed in motorized areas.

"You can ski anywhere you want," Patalik said. "Just don't disturb the marked trails."

The trail markers have been corrected and Patalik said he hopes whoever is behind the incident will get the hint their actions are not welcomed.

Besides creating more work for the Forest Service employees, who have to correct the trails and repair the signs, officials are concerned the false markers could get someone so lost they won't be able to make it back to where they started.

"First of all, it's wrong to do," Forest Service spokeswoman Denise Germann said. "But we also have a lot of people who follow those trails and they could get lost."

If someone did get hopelessly lost, and got hurt in the process, the person who changed the markers on the trails would be legally liable for any damages, Germann said.

Also, officials are interpreting the actions of these people as vandalism, which can result in a fine of up to $5,000 or six months in prison.

There have not been any major problems caused by the trails being changed, except for a few lost skiers who found their way back home without help, Germann said.

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