Keep snowmobiles out of wilderness

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Wilderness areas are not for snowmobiles, the U.S. Forest Service is reminding people as the winter season continues.

Like other motorized equipment, snowmobiles are prohibited from crossing into areas such as the Mount Zirkel Wilderness northeast of Steamboat Springs, the Sarvis Creek and Flat Top wilderness areas.

Additionally, the Forest Service encourages snowmobile users to respect the suggested-use boundaries on Rabbit Ears Pass and Buffalo Pass, which separate motorized and nonmotorized uses and have been in place since the 1980s, said Rachel Kennon, recreation program manager.

By the end of this month, the Forest Service hopes to have a plan for managing winter recreation on Rabbit Ears Pass and Buffalo Pass, Kennon said. After the plan is released, there will be a period for appeals, so the plan will not be implemented until the winter of 2005-06.

Five alternatives for managing winter recreation on Buffalo Pass and Rabbit Ears Pass were put out for public comment last summer after months of public meetings and research, and the Forest Service will choose one alternative or a combination of the alternatives.

But snowmobiles, as always, are not allowed in wilderness areas.

So far this winter, the problem of snowmobiles trespassing in wilderness has not been too serious, Kennon said. In the past few years, however, the Forest Service has ticketed 17 people for riding in the wilderness.

Boundary signs in problem areas and maps at winter trailheads show which areas are closed to snowmobiles.

"We make the effort to inform riders, but ultimately, it is their responsibility to know where they are to avoid taking their machines into the wilderness," said Jon Halverson, wilderness manager for the Hahns Peak/Bears Ears district.

Violators face up to a $5,000 fine and six months in jail.

"Wilderness has been set aside by the Wilderness Act for primitive and unconfined recreation and for solitary experiences," Kennon said. "So we want to protect those types of experiences."

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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