Wednesday, November 20, 2002
Steamboat Springs The sight of fresh motorized tracks is something U.S. Forest Service officials don't want to see in the wilderness this winter.
But signs of snowmobile activity are showing up in the Mount Zirkel, Sarvis Creek, Flat Tops and Never Summer wilderness areas.
"It's that time of year," said Jon Halverson, wilderness manager for the Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District.
Bright yellow signs posted throughout wilderness boundaries alert passerbys to the importance of keeping their snowmobiles out.
But those warnings have been ignored. Snowmobilers have driven around signs and entered an area forbidden to motorized recreation.
"It's not right," Halverson said. "It's not appropriate. And it's illegal."
People may assume snowmobiles are acceptable in the wilderness because heavy snowfall protects the ground from wear and tear. But Halverson suggested people look at the bigger picture.
The 1964 Wilderness Act set aside wilderness areas as places for primitive adventure and solitude. Wilderness provides a refuge from the sights and sounds of the mechanized world.
The sights and sounds of snowmobiles ripping through wilderness areas undermine the reason such places were created, Halverson said.
People who legally access wilderness areas in the winter seek serenity. Snowmobilers do not allow them that, he said.
People who ride their snowmobiles in the wilderness are either unaware of the restriction or blatantly disregard the rules, he said.
Halverson cautioned would-be offenders to consider the risks before they cross into wilderness boundaries.
People who enter wilderness areas on snowmobiles face fines up to $5,000 and six months in jail.
Several people, including two Steamboat men, have been cited and pleaded guilty to riding snowmobiles in the wilderness.
Local law enforcement and forest protection officers can issue tickets, and any Forest Service personnel can report an offense if they see it.
Forest protection officers regularly patrol wilderness boundaries. They have documented almost 300 violations this year in the Buffalo Pass area of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.
The Forest Service works with local outfitters to ensure their customers do not violate the non-motorized restriction.
Terry Nelson, manager of Steamboat Lake Outfitters, said the company educates snowmobilers about where they can and cannot go before they head out on the trail.
"We do quite a bit of coverage," Nelson said.
Many SLO customers take advantage of guided tours that ensure they stay on designated trails not in the area of the wilderness, he added.
Forest Service offices and winter trailheads provide maps and information that show the closed areas.
The ban on motorized recreation in the wilderness shouldn't put a damper on snowmobiling plans.
The Routt National Forest, at 1.1 million acres, provides ample elbowroom for all outdoor enthusiasts.
"There's plenty of opportunities out there for folks to ride legally outside the wilderness," Halverson said.
Most snowmobilers have taken advantage of those legal opportunities. But Halverson stressed the Forest Service cannot turn a blind eye to those who engage in illegal winter recreation.
"The actions of the minority who choose not to cooperate reflect poorly on the entire snowmobile community," he said.