Forest Service stepping up snowmobile patrols

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— The U.S. Forest Service is stepping up efforts to catch people using snowmobiles in protected wilderness areas.

The Forest Service patrolled the Mount Zirkel, Houston Park and Never Summer wilderness areas last weekend by air and on the ground to catch trespassing snowmobilers.

More flyovers are planned this weekend if the weather permits.

A growing number of winter visitors to the Routt National Forest has partly contributed to the rise in trespassing snowmobiles in the wilderness, said Jon Halverson, wilderness manager for the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.

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.

"Motorized vehicles and equipment, including snowmobiles, were never intended to be a part of that picture," Halverson said.

The sights and sounds of snowmobiles ripping through wilderness areas undermine the reason such places were created, he said. People who legally access wilderness areas in the winter seek serenity, and snowmobilers can deny them that serenity.

Bright yellow signs posted throughout wilderness boundaries alert passersby that snowmobiles are restricted from the area. Snowmobilers have driven around those signs and entered areas forbidden to motorized recreation, Halverson said.

Not all wilderness boundaries are marked, but riders are responsible for knowing where they are so they do not cross into prohibited areas of the forest.

Would-be trespassers should consider the risks -- fines up to $5,000 and six months in jail -- before crossing wilderness boundaries.

Several people, including two Steamboat Springs men, have been cited and pleaded guilty to riding snowmobiles in the wilderness this winter.

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.

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.

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