Winter recreation alternative suggested

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An alternative for managing winter recreation on Rabbit Ears Pass and Buffalo Pass has been recommended by the U.S. Forest Service.

The alternative the U.S. Forest Service is proposing makes official the splits between motorized and nonmotorized uses that have been suggested for the past few years, with some modifications.

Those separate uses were outlined in the late 1990s by the Winter Task Force, which was made up of interested snowmobilers, skiers and others.

The draft environmental impact assessment for the two areas in the Routt National Forest, the document that proposes the alternative, was released Friday.

Public comment will be accepted for the next two months, before the Forest Service makes its final decision this fall.

In March, five alternative plans for each area were released. None of the alternatives increased the number of miles for designated and groomed winter trails, and all except a "no action" alternative separated motorized and nonmotorized uses.

Public comments were taken, the alternatives were amended, and since then a group of specialists has been writing a draft plan.

Alternative 1, which is the alternative the U.S. Forest Service is recommending, formalizes the suggested boundaries between motorized and nonmotorized use. For example, the east side of Rabbit Ears is mostly suggested for motorized uses and the west side is open mostly to nonmotorized uses.

The alternative means that snowmobiles would be required to remain on groomed and designated routes inside the snowcat permit area. Snowmobiling on Fish Creek Reservoir and Long Lake would be prohibited.

Trails on the east end of Buffalo Pass also are designated for non-motorized use, except for the section that follows the Grizzly Helena Road.

The alternative proposes about 75,000 acres for motorized uses, and 32,000 acres for nonmotorized uses.

In previous discussions, officials said that any plan that made separate uses mandatory would require the implementation of fees. Now, whether fees are necessary is under consideration and will be studied as a separate issue, said Diann Ritschard, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman.

Copies of the draft assessment are available online. Because printing out and mailing copies of the lengthy report would have cost tens of thousands of dollars, Forest Service officials notified people that copies would be available online, Ritschard said.

To be clear, people should comment on the draft assessment through writing. According to federal rules, only people who have documented that they have been involved with the process can appeal a final decision.

Ritschard said the public's involvement has been helpful.

"We really appreciate all the public that have been involved," she said. "There are a lot of people from this area and from other areas who care very much about how recreation is managed on their public lands."

The draft report is available at www.fs.fed.us/r2/mbr/projects/rec, and paper copies are available at local libraries or on CD-ROM.

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