The Sheriff's Office is issuing warning tickets at Dry Lake Campground, and the U.S. Forest Service is promising public hearings to begin addressing overcrowding of parking areas used by snowmobilers and backcountry skiers.
Sgt. Troy McDaniels of the Routt County Sheriff's Department issued more than 40 warning tickets Thursday to the owners of vehicles parked illegally along Routt County Road 38 (Buffalo Pass Road) in the vicinity of Dry Lake Campground. Sheriff John Warner said his department would continue to try to work with motorists to raise awareness of safety issues that arise when vehicles overflowing a Forest Service parking lot park illegally on the county road.
"What we did was issue nothing but warning tickets," Warner said. "Through education, hopefully we'll get some cooperation from the public. In the big picture, it's a small problem. But it's a problem that's going to persist."
Buffalo Pass road is plowed as far as Dry lake Campground. Beyond that point, the road has become a snowy highway fit only for snowmobiles and a few snow cats.
Warner said his officers would not consider towing vehicles unless there was an actual emergency under way, for example, a house fire. The sheriff also is concerned that search and rescue command vehicles and snowcats might not have room to maneuver if they are asked to respond to a report of a lost snowmobiler or skier.
Ed Patalik, a recreation planner with the Medicine Bow/ Routt National Forest, said his office has begun preparing a "Winter Recreation Management Analysis." That process will involve a full environmental analysis.
"Public meetings could begin by the end of January," Patalik said.
The new plan will guide Forest Service management of the burgeoning demand for winter recreation. That demand is being felt not just on Buffalo Pass, but also on Rabbit Ears Pass and in North Routt.
Warner pointed out that it isn't just recreational snowmobilers who are overflowing small Forest Service parking areas. "Hybrids," or snowboarders and skiers who use snowmobiles to access untracked snow, are also a part of the overall picture.
Patalik said the Forest Service's philosophy has been to match parking lot size to the recreational capacity of a given natural area. While the summit of Buffalo Pass could handle more recreation, a series of switchbacks in the snow-packed road just above Dry Lake becomes a hazard with heavy snowmobile traffic, Patalik said.
Warner has a slightly different take on the size of the parking lot.
"The Forest Service is still of the opinion that if they control the size of the parking lot, they can control the number of vehicles," Warner said. "(The overflow parking on Thursday) is ample demonstration that's not the case."
The Forest Service is looking for ways to make the existing parking lot more efficient, Patalik said. It holds between 20 and 30 vehicles, but large snowmobile trailers reduce its capacity.
"We want to make the parking lost work better," Patalik said. "We've looked at making a pull-through (lane), but there are adverse grades," that would make it difficult to engineer.
As the Forest Service works through the process of developing the new Winter Recreation Management Analysis, it wants to continue working with the Sheriff's Department on enforcement and educational issues, Patalik said.
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