Recreation public hearings

New regulations, fees likely to go into effect next winter

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Federal, county and state government agencies on Tuesday kicked off a public process intended to reduce some of the conflicts among people who love to play in the snow.

U.S. Forest Service representative Kim Vogel, district ranger for the Hahns Peak/Bears Ears District, said the three-part initiative is intended to usher in a new era in the way growing demand for winter recreation is managed on public lands here. Colorado State Parks and Routt County are joining the Forest Service in the process.

By next winter, Vogel said, separate areas could be formally assigned to separate nonmotorized users such as skiers and snowshoers from motorized users such as snowmobilers.

All of the groups can anticipate being required to pay fees to pursue their favorite form of recreation in the future, Vogel added.

"We expect by November to have a decision in place and through the appeal process so that we can implement it by next winter," Vogel said.

To increase law enforcement efforts, educational efforts and improve upon existing parking facilities, the Forest Service anticipates implementing fees at Buffalo Pass next winter and on Rabbit Ears Pass the following year. The fees would apply to motorized and nonmotorized forms of recreation, Vogel said.

However, those plans won't go forward until three related initiatives are complete.

First, the three government agencies are in the process of conducting an inventory of the ideal locations for various forms of recreation, Vogel said. Next, the Forest Service intends to conduct a site-specific analysis of two major areas where recreational conflicts are taking place. Finally, Routt County is expected to reopen the chapter in Upper Elk River Valley Community Plan devoted to "recreational uses and public lands."

The goal, Vogel said, is to maximize the quality of the recreational experience for forest users. A coordinated effort by the Forest Service, Routt County and state parks is needed to achieve the best results, she said.

"We want to identify the best places for snowmobiling, the best places for snowshoeing and the best places for backcountry skiing," Vogel said. "For us to partner with them is the best way to look at all those opportunities and assess what are the best alternatives and then head in the right direction."

After taking inventory of recreational opportunities, Vogel said, the next step is to study the best opportunity for public access to those areas and to minimize overlap and the resulting conflict.

A written statement Vogel issued Tuesday details three specific proposals for the area spanning from Buffalo Pass south to Rabbit Ears Pass and beyond to the boundaries of the Service Creek Wilderness.

They include formally designated areas and routes for nonmotorized use as well as for mixed use. Another proposal would require that snowmobiles remain on marked routes in areas designated for backcountry skiing and snowcat operations.

In addition, the statement includes two recommendations for the area of Columbine and Hahn's Peak in North Routt County. They include designating areas for nonmotorized use on the north-facing slopes of Hahn's Peak, and west of Routt County Road 129 to Nipple Peak, south to Diamond Peak. A second recommendation would designate a north-south trial from the southern forest boundary near Hahn's Peak Village north to Little Red Park using a series of forest roads.

Vogel said the five recommendations were drawn from the work of a Winter Recreation Task Force in 1999.

The complete "scoping document" can be reviewed at www.fs.fed.us/r2/mbr/projects/rec, or a copy can be requested by calling 879-1870, or picked up in person at the Forest Service Office at 925 Weiss Dr. in Steamboat. Comments are due Feb. 9.

There also will be a series of four public meetings on the process from Jan. 26 to Feb. 3, where public comments will be invited.

Vogel said the agencies are seeking constructive comments on the recommendations for North Routt and the Buffalo Pass to Rabbit Ears areas. Comments that are merely critical, and don't offer alternatives are less effective, Vogel said.

"We need to hear from people what the options are -- those are the helpful comments," she said.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot0.com

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