USFS unveils winter plan

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After two years of work and decades of discussion, the U.S. Forest Service has released a plan to manage winter recreation on Rabbit Ears Pass and Buffalo Pass.

The decision formalizes and makes some changes to suggested motorized and nonmotorized boundaries that already are in place. The plan should be in place for the 2005-06 winter season.

As the popularity of winter recreation has grown, so have conflicts between motorized and nonmotorized users.

Representatives from both sides of the motorized debate said they were unhappy with as--pects of the management plan.

Leslie Lovejoy, director of Friends of the Routt Backcountry, a group that advocates for nonmotorized uses, said she was glad to see some designated nonmotorized areas, but she was disappointed with the plan overall.

"I had great hopes for the Forest Service in creating a model plan," Lovejoy said. "Instead, (the plan) is trying to make everybody happy and falling short of a far-sighted, well-thought-out plan."

George Kostiuk, vice president of the Routt Powder Rid--ers snowmobile club, said he thinks motorized users have lost ground during the years.

"The blue area's just way too big," Kostiuk said, referring to area set aside for nonmotorized uses.

Kim Vogel, district ranger for the Routt National Forest, said the plan is a good compromise.

"I think it's the best we can do right now," she said. "In looking at the near future ... depending upon use and demands and different types of technology, we may need to adjust the decision further.

"I don't think this is the now-and-forever type of thing."

Vogel said the alternative chosen was based on one of four alternatives presented initially, but it was tweaked in response to public comments.

Under the proposal, the east side of Rabbit Ears and Buffalo passes will be designated for motorized and mixed uses. East of the nonmotorized area that includes Hogan Park Trail will be an area for motorized and mixed uses. South Walton Peak will be motorized.

A snowmobile loop with views behind the Steamboat Ski Area also is allowed in the plan.

Nonmotorized areas include the Hogan Park Trail, North Walton Peak and areas accessible from Buffalo Pass Road, U.S. Highway 40 and Steamboat Ski Area.

Buffalo Pass will have an area of mixed use, including commercial use, which all users can access.

The lynx and wildlife corridor near Muddy Pass Lake, as well as Fish Creek Reservoir and Long Lake, are suggested for nonmotorized uses.

Overnight parking and camping will be allowed only at the Muddy Creek parking area.

Details about how to enforce boundaries and other aspects of implementing the plan will be discussed in coming weeks. Strategies could include ticketing, permitting, use fees, signs and more.

People who want to appeal the management plan have 45 days, starting Monday, to do so.

Lovejoy said that skiers and snowshoers had lost areas that they wanted to be nonmotorized and that the plan does not provide enough slopes for backcountry skiing.

Lovejoy said that only suggesting that snowmobilers not use the wildlife corridor or the lake and reservoir was not enough to protect wildlife and water.

She also said the lack of change to managing the Buffalo Pass area means conflict and overuse will continue in the area.

Kostiuk, however, said the lack of change to uses on Buffalo Pass was the one positive aspect of the plan.

Heidi Thomsen, spokeswoman for Steamboat Ski Area, said ski area officials would be reviewing the information but could not comment.

Kent Vertrees of Steamboat Powdercats, which operates on Buffalo Pass, also declined to comment about the plan.

The decision and maps showing all alternatives considered are available at www.fs.fed.us/r2/mbr/projects/rec.

The U.S. Forest Service will hold public meetings to explain the decision from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday at the USFS office in Steamboat Springs, and from 4 to 6 p.m. June 23 at the USFS office in Walden.

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

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