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Mark Hartless: Both sides are wrong

In 2005, the U.S. Forest Service implemented a Winter Travel Management Plan for the Rabbit Ears/Buffalo Pass areas. The plan closed a large portion of the area to snowmobiles. As an avid snowmobiler, I made the mistake of participating in that planning process.

Since then, snowmobile use has increased, and parking has become scarce. Many snowmobilers argue that expanded parking is the solution to this perceived problem. The fact is that access via parking is not the solution; it often is the problem.

Any rancher understands that cattle cannot indefinitely be introduced into an area without the eventual destruction of the very resource that led him to that area in the first place. Ditto for snowmobilers. While the terrain on Rabbit Ears and Buffalo Pass might seem vast, those who know the area well and recreate there often acutely are aware of its limited "carrying capacity."

When it comes to snowmobiling, the Rabbit Ears/Buffalo Pass areas are nearing the point of being "overgrazed." Sure, another 10,000 sledders could be squeezed into the area, but the quality experience would be destroyed completely for those already there and for newcomers, as well.

Parking is a solution only if accompanied by more riding area. Until more terrain becomes available, there should be no expansion of parking. Nor should any new trails be built, marked or groomed.

If "overgrazing" is the problem in motorized areas, the opposite is true for nonmotorized areas. That area is underutilized extremely by the very folks who fought to take it from snowmobilers. Most of the terrain closed to snowmobilers eight years ago still is unused. At least half that ground should be re-opened to snowmobilers until the remaining half is better utilized.

Adding insult to this injury, many nonmotorized advocates still continue to promote wilderness and roadless areas that further constrict snowmobilers' ability to "graze" away from nonmotorized areas. It is understandable that they want to "protect" areas they frequently access, but in some sort of knee-jerk environmental advocacy crusade run amok, they also work to close quality snowmobiling terrain far away from their favorite spots. This Pavlovian howling for more and more closures drives the snowmobile "herd" right back into their own garden. Not only is this unwise, it supports snowmobilers' claim that nonmotorized users simply hate sledders and want to cause them grief.

Further proof that nonmotorized users haven't learned this lesson is that they currently seek closure of thousands more acres in North Routt, where they utilize only a fraction of that amount and where their favorite areas largely had been avoided by snowmobilers voluntarily until that aggression began.

Nonmotorized users should cease the broad offensive, concentrate on portions they actually might use and begin to stand with snowmobilers rather than against them when it comes to areas they show no desire to access anyway.

Nonmotorized users also must adjust their expectations. While the desire for untracked snow and space is reasonable, being free from the sights, sounds, smells and all other evidence of snowmobilers in places like Rabbit Ears and Buffalo Pass in this day and age is unreasonable.

Wilderness areas total more than 235,000 acres in Northwest Colorado and more than 3,700,000 acres statewide. Vast amounts of additional nonmotorized terrain also are available.

To both sides I say: Enough is enough. Hoarding unused terrain and asking for more? Demanding more parking when riding areas already are saturated? Both sides are wrong here.

Want parking? Get up earlier. Want solitude? Go into the wilderness. Still not happy? I hear Alaska is wide open.

Mark Hartless

Steamboat Springs