Backcountry users weigh in

Forest Service hopes public meetings will lead to compromise

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Mary Sanderson knows there is no perfect plan to accommodate all the demands and desires of backcountry winter recreationists, but she thinks a compromise can be found.

Sanderson and other U.S. Forest Service employees hope a series of public meetings that began Monday at Olympian Hall will uncover a backcountry use plan that satisfies the wants of the majority of snowmobilers, cross country skiers and snowshoers who increasingly make Routt County their outdoor destination.

"There are some excellent solutions out there, and we're going to get to them," said Sanderson, recreation planner for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland. "We want people to help us do our thinking. We don't believe we have the perfect solutions."

Monday's open house meeting, and the two others scheduled to be held elsewhere in Routt County this week, is part of a multi-agency effort to ease conflicts and issues created by motorized and nonmotorized users of Routt National Forest.

The Forest Service, Routt County and Colorado State Parks sent a letter earlier this month to 2,600 county residents, backcountry users and businesses. The letter proposes ways to manage winter recreation on the Routt National Forest while also requesting input from those who use the areas or are affected by the use.

Among the dozens of attendees at Monday's meeting was Steamboat Springs resident and avid snowmobiler Mitch Clementson, who said the proposed changes only benefit non-motorized users.

"The skiers are asking for more area every year," Clementson said. "The skiers don't like us. They don't like our looks and they don't like our noise. To me it's discrimination."

Clementson, who snowmobiles in all the areas for which proposed changes are suggested, said the current forest plan is fine.

"I think the solution is already there," he said.

Kris Tratiak, a cross country skier and snowshoer, has lived in Steamboat for 25 years. While she thinks the open house meetings are a step in the right direction to finding a workable solution, she doesn't like some of the proposed changes, either.

For one, Tratiak said, the proposed multi-use trail that cuts through the north-facing slopes of Hahn's Peak will invite snowmobilers to buzz into areas designated for nonmotorized users.

"It's not good," Tratiak said. "You can ignore a skier on a snowmobile path. But a skier can't ignore the noise and smell of a snowmobiler on a ski path."

The proposed changes target the areas of Rabbit Ears Pass, Buffalo Pass and North Routt County. Some of those changes include formally designating mixed-use and nonmotorized use areas and restricting motorized use in some areas of Buffalo Pass to groomed and marked routes only.

Suggested changes for the Hahn's Peak and Columbine areas include designating the north-facing slopes of Hahn's Peak for non-motorized use and making the area west of Routt County Road 129 from Nipple Peak south to Diamond Peak strictly nonmotorized. A through-trail extending north from near Hahn's Peak Village to the Little Red Park area also is proposed. A section of that multi-use trail would cut through the proposed nonmotorized area on the north-facing slopes of Hahn's Peak.

Sanderson said the proposals for the Rabbit Ears Pass and Buffalo Pass areas were developed largely by the Routt Winter Task Force several years ago. The proposal for areas in North Routt County was put together by officials knowing it would generate comments.

"You have to provoke comment somehow," Sanderson said.

The Forest Service also said it needs to impose fees for users and will be considering parking, camping and other access areas as it updates its forest plan.

The suggestions are prompted by an increasing number of conflicts in both areas, Sanderson said. Rabbit Ears Pass generates the most conflict and issues between users, she said.

"Snowmobile and ski use is skyrocketing, and it's going to continue to increase over the next 50 years," Sanderson said. "We need to figure out what we're doing forestwide."

At least 50 people came to Olympian Hall during the first hour of Monday's three-hour meeting. Forest Service officials said they were encouraged by the turnout.

Routt Powder Riders, a snowmobile club, handed out its response to the proposals to people who attended the meeting. The club questions the implementation of fees because its members have spent thousands of dollars and countless hours of volunteer labor to help build and maintain the trails on Rabbit Ears Pass. It also opposes some of the user boundaries established by the proposals.

Forest Service, Routt County and Colorado State Parks officials will sort through input and comments generated by the open house meetings and propose revised alternatives in March. Those revised alternatives also will be put to the public for further input.

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