Thursday, February 17, 2011
Steamboat Springs U.S. Sen. Mark Udall is taking another shot at a bill intended to increase opportunities for summer recreational activities on ski resorts that use U.S. Forest Service land, including Steamboat Ski Area.
Udall, D-Colo., introduced the Ski Area Recreation Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2011 in Congress on Thursday. The bill would amend the National Forest Ski Area Permit Act of 1986 to clarify the process for use of Forest Service land and, Udall said, allow a broader range of summer uses such as mountain biking and concerts. In a conference call with Western Slope media, Udall said the bill is intended to clarify the permitting process and ultimately stimulate resort economies.
“We all understand the importance of finding a balance between summer and winter activities,” Udall said. “The bill would help boost year-round activity in our ski resorts.”
Udall said he tried to include the bill in omnibus public lands legislation in 2010, but “the only thing that stopped us was the calendar.”
Also involved in this year’s iteration are U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah; and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.
Udall said there were initial questions about whether the bill would enable attractions such as amusement parks on Forest Service lands, but that is not the case.
“The environmental community has been very involved in the drafting of this legislation,” he said. “There are some uses the Forest Service would not find appropriate.”
Udall said the Forest Service would continue to have the authority to determine appropriate uses.
Kent Foster, recreation manager for the Forest Service’s Hahns Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District, said current uses such as mountain biking, for example, are allowable because trails are a relatively natural part of a forest environment.
“Right now, activities in the national forest need to be of a natural setting,” Foster said. “I think what this legislation is seeking to do … is open it up to other activities.”
Foster said he’s heard of some resorts considering new features such as Alpine slides.
“I’ve not seen that here, but it would open it up to that,” Foster said about the legislation.
He added that any proposal for use of Forest Service land would go through an extensive analysis and public comment process.
Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The development of mountain biking trails on Mount Werner has driven extensive public debate and activity during the past two years.
Robin Craigen, who is on the board of directors for the Routt County Riders cycling advocacy group, said construction could begin in spring of two new freeride trails that would be the first of a potentially 20-trail freeride system on Mount Werner. Freeriding is a form of mountain biking that features natural obstacles and jumps.
Craigen said his interactions with the Forest Service have been positive.
“It’s a thorough and lengthy process, and it’s done to take full consideration of everything involved,” he said. “I have really felt that the Forest Service could not have been more helpful and accommodating of these new ideas.”
Despite that statement, he said there’s room for improvement.
“As far as this legislation is concerned, anything that could be done to improve the process would be welcomed with open arms,” Craigen said.
— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com