Saturday, January 18, 2003
Preserving the Backcountry
The mission of Friends of the Routt Backcountry is to ensure quiet areas, with good powder, close enough to trailheads for skier and snowshoer day trips. This gets harder every year due to increased power and efficiency of snowmobiles, allowing them to access places that few could reach before. Rapidly increasing snowmobile use means there are now many where there used to be few.
It may take me hours to break trail to a favorite ski hill. Once there, my experience can be ruined by snowmobile trenches, the buzz-saw noise and whining motors and by watching a hill we could have laid angel-hair tracks on all day get trashed by machines in minutes. It's frustrating and I feel that hill has been taken away from me just as surely as if someone had fenced me out. We, too, feel like we have lost terrain.
Snowmobilers say there is no problem; they don't mind their own noise, probably don't even notice skiers in the adjacent woods. Nonmotorized users say the problems are noise, smell, trashed powder and safety. One snowmobile half a mile away can completely disrupt the quiet we seek. Wilderness areas are too far away for nonmotorized day use. It's not the people coming into the areas we like to ski that bothers us, it's the machines they bring with them.
Recent Forest Service decisions naming areas snowmobiles are requested to avoid:
n The Toutes: For years, local snowmobilers have ridden a loop trail coming close to Mount Werner. Until Mount Werner was included in the ski area boundary, they could even ride up onto it for views, but that is now illegal. Today, many more skiers want to go out of bounds for better, less-used, expert terrain. Steamboat has run lifts to Storm Peak and Mount Werner and "the Toutes" has gained a big following.
All might be OK if snowmobilers stayed on the old loop route, which is in the trees. But they don't. Ever increasing numbers ride into the "Bogg" where skiers cross it from Mount Werner, ride on the bald hill by the Bogg, follow ski runs down the west, east and, sometimes, the north side of that hill, ride into the ski area itself after hours and through skied terrain into Hogan Park: a nonmotorized area since 1983.
A buffer zone is logical and overdue.
n Buffalo Pass: Many users -- skiers/snowshoers, snowmobilers (recreational and towing skiers/riders), snowcat clients -- use the same, limited terrain more every year. Four years ago, we asked to have snowmobiles stay on the groomed Buffalo Pass Road for five miles from Dry Lake Trailhead. We compromised with the other users and ended up with the small, quality, nonmotorized area "Bear Tree Ridge," largely unused by snowmobiles, with a natural sound buffer ridge to dampen noise from Buff Pass Road and with a variety of terrain. We don't want to lose it.
Recently, Blue Sky West gained permission to maintain a snow road up Soda Mountain just east of Bear Tree. Motorized and nonmotorized members of the Routt Winter Task Force opposed this road. We have observed for years that every road snowcats groom draws large numbers of snowmobilers, and many go off the roads. We use Soda and more snowmobiles will be tempted to return to Dry Lake through Bear Tree.
If snowmobiles stay on roads, maybe Blue Sky West won't have to keep expanding and maybe Bear Tree will survive.
n Suggested use vs. regulation: The Forest Service believes it has had 85 percent to 90 percent success with "suggested use" boundaries on Rabbit Ears Pass since 1983, but that means 10 percent to 15 percent of the rapidly increasing number of users cross the line. In spite of efforts by local snowmobilers and skiers on the Routt Winter Task Force to conduct surveys, visit trailheads, put up signs, make maps and a concerted effort by Routt Powder Riders to communicate with other clubs, the situation continues to deteriorate. Now the Forest Service has decided to study winter recreation use on several parts of the Routt National Forest to see if and where "suggested use" should be changed to "regulation," which means strict boundaries with patrols and tickets. The nonmotorized community strongly supports this study but believes Rabbit Ears has already been studied and should be changed to "regulation" now.
We believe the Forest Service is just doing its job of managing winter recreation use. We disagree with the Blue Sky West snow road up Soda. We agree a buffer is needed around the ski area and that "regulation" should replace "suggested use."
Friends of the Routt Backcountry
Getting Rid of Snowmobilers 1 Acre at a Time
In response to Ben Tiffany's and Leslie Lovejoy's editorials, if they would take the time to look at the latest map the Forest Service drew up, they would see that cross country skiers are not restricted anywhere on Rabbit Ears Pass and Buffalo Pass.
The snowmobilers are restricted to less than half the area on Rabbit Ears Pass. Throw in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness and Sarvis Creek Wilderness areas, which account for about 25 percent of the forest, and the cross country skiers have more than twice the area.
As a practical matter, snowmobilers cover five to 10 times the distance cross country skiers do. Also, there are many more snowmobilers than cross country skiers as anyone who has tried to find a place to park on a given weekend can tell you.
Lots for cross country skiers are larger than lots for the snowmobilers and the cross country skiers don't tow trailers as the snowmobilers do. The snowmobile community led the building of the Dumont Lake parking area and we were also the leaders in financial support for and construction of the bathrooms at Muddy Creek. Even the trees at this location had to be bought from the Forest Service.
Cross country skiers often complain about perceived losses, yet they have more area than they can practically use. The reality is that what they would like to do is get rid of snowmobilers altogether, something they are trying to do a few acres at a time.
Consider the area east of Mount Werner. Many cross country skiers access this area by riding a chairlift to the top. This allows them to step back in time and enjoy the kind of peace and serenity we would all like to have. Ask someone in Hayden whether he prefers the noise of a snowmobile or that of a jet that passes over town at treetop level.
The snowmobilers maintain their own trail system. They bought their own groomer, markers and poles. They volunteer for all the labor involved under the supervision of the U.S. Forest Service. Who provides the poles, the trail markers and the labor for the trails the cross country skiers use?
The question I have is, when these regulations become law and everybody is paying to park on the public lands, will the Forest Service keep marking trails using snowmobiles?
Why destroy land?
I must defend myself to some baseless accusations that appeared in Letters to the Editor last week, from a Julie Kay Smithson of London, Ohio.
I invite her to talk to me or any member of the Backcountry Skiers Alliance, or Friends of Routt Backcountry, before she embarks on her delusional rantings again.
I am a cross country skier who questions why some snowmobilers feel the need to cross over a well-defined boundary that is more than 25 years old and cut up the only telemark hills for miles around. How that turns me into a "sandbox bully" that wants to "stop all human access to such areas as Mount Werner, Long Park/Long Lake and Dry Lake" is beyond me.
I guess in her mind that makes me "querulous" again.