A road less graveled

Preservation group takes a hike

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— John Spezia is the kind of guy who, standing in a trailhead parking lot waiting for a hike to begin, idly picks rocks out of the dirt and identifies them after a glance.

"Here's another piece of granite, and this one's feldspar," Spezia said to about 15 people on the morning of May 13. "You know, if we were standing here 150 million years ago, we'd need boats."

The group gathered at the Mad Creek Trailhead to hike, learn about local plants and geology and get a firsthand look at one of 32 designated roadless areas in the Routt National Forest.

"My goal today is to show you what beauty we have and talk about what we can do to preserve it," said Spezia, an instructor with the Colorado Mountain Club and a member of the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley.

He was referring to a current review of roadless areas within national forest lands across much of Western and Southern Colorado. The review will also consider use of 58.5 million forested, roadless acres in the United States.

In summer 2004, the Bush administration overturned the Roadless Area Conservation Rule implemented in 2001. That rule set protections against development on roadless areas of national forest lands throughout the country.

The Bush administration replaced the 2001 rule with a process that requires state governors to petition the Department of Agriculture for the protection of national forest lands in their state. The department will accept petitions from governors until Nov. 13.

Future management of roadless areas in Colorado may ultimately be in the hands of outgoing Gov. Bill Owens.

Diann Ritschard, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service in Steamboat Springs, said the Routt National Forest covers 1,125,564 acres in Northwest Colorado.

The forest has 32 inventoried roadless areas, totaling more than half a million acres.

One of those areas is the Mad Creek Trail, a 6.5-mile hike or bike ride featuring deep canyons overlooking the creek, large boulders, aspen groves and old mining cabins. As he led the group up the trail, Spezia pointed out flora including larkspur, chokecherry and bitterbrush.

As he drummed up support for Thursday's public forum with the Colorado Roadless Areas Review Task Force, a group appointed by Owens that has been holding forums to gauge public sentiment about roadless areas across the state since November, Spezia may have been preaching to the choir.

"We're not anti-motorized activity," Spezia said. "We're pro-conservation. Recreational users will still be able to use existing roads -- we're just asking for no new mining, no new logging and no new ski areas (in designated roadless areas)."

The Routt Forest Protection Group sponsored the hike.

Steamboat Springs resident Stuart Orzach said that though he enjoyed the information provided by Spezia and found the day to be a worthwhile experience, at times he wanted a little less talking and a little more walking.

"I thought maybe we'd hike a little further, but it made me realize that the trail is already dry and open and I can go back there with my bike," Orzach said.

--o reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or email mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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