Winter rec plan to debut in June

Draft will affect users of Buffalo, Rabbit Ears passes

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— A draft of a plan that will affect snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and other winter recreation activities in the Buffalo Pass and Rabbit Ears Pass areas likely will be released by the U.S. Forest Service in mid-June.

With that timeline, a new plan for managing winter recreation in both areas should be in place before next winter.

Despite budget constraints that forced the Forest Service to postpone its analysis of the North Routt area, assessments of the two passes will be completed, Forest Service spokeswoman Diann Ritschard said.

"There were some concerns regarding funding, but we've adjusted the funding we have in order to complete this project," Ritschard said. "We are very committed to completing this."

Last winter, in response to increasing popularity of the areas and conflicts between nonmotorized and motorized uses, the Forest Service hosted public meetings to discuss winter recreation concerns in the Buffalo Pass and Rabbit Ears Pass areas.

In March, five alternative plans for each area were released. All alternatives included no increase in designated and groomed winter trail miles, and all except a "no action" alternative include separation of motorized and non-motorized uses.

Fees to use the trails will be mandatory if any management plan is put in place, forest officials have said.

Since public comment on the alternatives was taken in March, a group of specialists has been examining the alternatives and will choose one or a combination of several alternatives for each area, Ritschard said.

According to a tentative schedule, the chosen plans will be presented to residents in Steamboat Springs, North Routt, Kremmling and Walden during the week of June 14. Additional public comment will be taken, then Forest Service officials will do a final environmental assessment and make a decision.

Public involvement in the process has been helpful, Ritschard said.

"We appreciate all the comments that they have sent us, and all the time that they have spent coming to public meetings," Ritschard said. "Even after the decision is made, we will still need the public's help."

For instance, residents could help educate visitors about the changes in managing winter recreation in the area, such as separating motorized and non-motorized uses.

In related business, Routt County is continuing its work on updating the recreation portion of the Upper Elk River Valley Community Plan. In the next few weeks, planners are expected to make a presentation to Routt County commissioners and have a discussion about work on the plan to date.


-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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