Snowmobilers decry changes to map

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— Local snowmobilers are expressing frustration over the potential loss of available terrain after the Routt National Forest recently made changes to its recreation map.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Forest Service revised its map of suggested winter nonmotorized use areas to include a nearly 3,000-acre addition just east and north of the Steamboat Ski Area. The agency also designated areas on Buffalo Pass where snowmobiles must stay on groomed trails.

"They did that without even telling us," Marc Satre said.

Satre is a member of a local snowmobile advocacy group called the Routt Powder Riders, as well as an appointed representative of the group to the Routt Winter Task Force.

The task force is a group of snowmobilers, backcountry skiers and mixed users that work out conflicts among themselves and give direction to the Forest Service. Most notably, the group has reinforced suggested nonmotorized areas on Rabbit Ears Pass set in 1981 and developed similar areas on Buffalo Pass two years ago. As the term implies, the maps are nonbonding but strongly suggested.

Satre and Powder Riders Vice President George Kostiuk, along with task force and Powder Riders member Gary Eubank, said Thursday the snowmobilers in the task force did not agree to the 3,000-acre extension behind the ski area and weren't aware the change would be made.

The new boundary eliminates a popular 12-mile expert snowmobile route with stunning views of the Yampa Valley, Kostiuk said.

The area also is a popular backcountry skiing destination known as the Toutes. It is often accessed by skiers coming out of the northeast end of Steamboat Ski Area, near access gate D.

Jim Linville, a skier on the task force and a member of the nonmotorized advocate group Backcountry Skiers Alliance, said nonmotorized users have wanted to protect skiing at the Toutes for several years. Since the technology of snowmobiles has increased, more people on sleds go there.

"The two groups haven't been in agreement," Linville said.

Satre and Kostiuk claimed the snowmobilers also were left in the dark on the Forest Service's decision to require snowmobiles to stay on groomed trails on Soda Mountain and surrounding terrain on Buffalo Pass. That designation is aimed to supply skiers, snowmobilers and commercial ski operator Blue Sky West/Powder Cats with untracked runs.

Satre is primarily concerned about the S curve on Buffalo Pass Road being included in the designation, because it's one of the only places where people on lower-powered snowmobiles can explore Buffalo Pass.

Both boundary decisions are being viewed by the Powder Riders as a significant loss of snowmobile terrain. Meanwhile, Kostiuk said he is concerned about the Forest Service catering too much to a minority group of nonmotorized users and private business interests, such as Blue Sky West/Powder Cats and the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

The Powder Riders wrote a letter to formally disagree with the new suggested-use areas. Kostiuk said he doesn't know if the group will respect the physical boundaries.

"This is a Catch 22," he said.

If the snowmobilers stay away, people would think no one cares. If they go in, they will be breaking the rules, Kostiuk explained.

"There is no way of enforcing this. The only way is to ask the snowmobilers to not go in there," Kostiuk said.

Users are asked to comply with suggested-use areas on the Routt National Forest, but there are no official laws that say they must.

The Powder Riders have complied with the older suggested-use boundaries. The group also has been willing to educate out-of-area users about nonmotorized areas, but the new decisions have complicated those efforts.

The Powder Riders raised $6,000 through advertisers to make and distribute 2,000 maps with the old boundaries. The maps were finished in March and distributed mostly to Front Range snowmobile clubs to help educate people.

"This it just going to create tension. It's really tough," Satre said.

Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears District Ranger Kim Vogel wasn't available for comment on Thursday. However, she explained the Forest Service's position in a letter sent to Satre dated Dec. 6.

"...I'm aware that these latest actions might not be well received by all the task force. I want to emphasize that the Forest Service is simply trying to establish an appropriate balance of motorized and nonmotorized recreation opportunities. I believe the forest can offer an abundant supply of both," she stated.

The Powder Riders' concerns come on the tail of Vogel's announcement that the district will begin forest planning that would include closing portions of the Routt National Forest to snowmobiles.

Unlike the suggested nonmotorized areas, the new planning would make it illegal to go into nonmotorized areas on a snowmobile. Forest officials will have to enforce the boundaries; their ability to do that is dependent on the agency's local budget.

Vogel said last week the effort is meant to disperse uses throughout the forest, instead of concentrating them in just a few popular areas.

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