Forest Service seeking ideas to manage Buffalo Pass crowds | SteamboatToday.com

Forest Service seeking ideas to manage Buffalo Pass crowds

A snowmobiler in deep snow on Buffalo Pass.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The secret is out, and the U.S. Forest Service is open to suggestions for handling the crowds of people that seek out the powder on Buffalo Pass during the winter.

"It's a well-loved spot," District Ranger Chad Stewart told Routt County commissioners during a Forest Service update Tuesday.

The popularity of Buffalo Pass during the winter was the focus of the discussion, but there are also concerns about the high usage during the summer.

"I feel like if I take on both summer and winter I'm doomed to fail," Stewart said.

Commissioner Cari Hermacinski, a Northwest Colorado native, said she has witnessed the popularity increase exponentially during the winter.

"I don't have an interest in going up to Buffalo Pass during the winter any more," Hermacinski said. "It gives me hives just thinking about it."

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A focal point of the conversation was the parking lot at Dry Lake that fills up quickly with cars, trucks and large rigs carrying snowmobiles and other winter recreation vehicles.

There are issues with vehicles parking illegally. A Forest Service worker monitoring the parking lot has turned around an average of 14 vehicles daily because the lot was at capacity.

"On Saturdays and Sundays, that person is managing a circus," Hermacinski said.

Commissioner Tim Corrigan echoed her concerns.

"If our most popular places become unpleasant places, that has an impact on Routt County," he said.

There are also safety concerns with large rigs turning around on the mountain road.

Commissioners said they were supportive of installing a sign near the base of Buffalo Pass that would warn people the parking lot was full. They would then, theoretically, have room to turn around.

Stewart said designs have been completed to reconfigure the parking lot so it is easier for large vehicles to pull through.

"I'm looking for short-term and long-term solutions up there," Stewart said.

The discussion with the commissioners was Stewart's effort to get more feedback from members of the public by meeting with groups of people who use the area.

"What I'm trying to gauge right now is what does the public want me to work on," Stewart said.

Corrigan said he supported ways to encourage users to recreate in other locations, so the crowds would be dispersed.

Some popular areas managed by the Forest Service have taken extreme measures to limit use by requiring users to obtain a permit.

"Philosophically, I don't like to limit access to public lands," Stewart said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland.