Some winter trail closures no longer voluntary in National Forest | SteamboatToday.com

Some winter trail closures no longer voluntary in National Forest

— The U.S. Forest Service is beefing up the winter trail closures it puts in place each year to protect elk and other wildlife.

Not satisfied with the public’s adherence to some voluntary trail closures, the Forest Service is making some of the closures in popular areas such as Mad Creek mandatory for the first time.

That means individuals who violate the closures could be ticketed and fined.

Officials hope the move will keep snowshoers, skiers and bike riders from disturbing wildlife at a time when they are vulnerable.

“Voluntary closures are worthless,” Area Wildlife Manager Jim Haskins said. “This should help.”

Haskins said local land managers have often spotted hikers with off-leash dogs using trails that are under the voluntary closures.

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The Red Dirt Trail is another area that is seeing a closure upgraded from voluntary to mandatory.

Haskins said when the closure was only voluntary, he would see people still using it daily.

The closures at local trails in the National Forest begin Dec. 1 and last until April 15.

Trail maps at Steamboat Ski Area will remind skiers about the closures in place on Mount Werner.

People who violate the closures can spook animals and make it harder for local elk populations to survive.

“Resident elk herds can no longer spend the winters on the valley floor due to increasing development, and their winter habitat is limited,” Hahn’s Peak/Bears Ears District wildlife biologist Missy Dressen said in a news release. “We’re hopeful the closures will give elk a necessary break from pressure so they can maintain a healthy body weight through the winter.”

Winter recreationists still have several places they can visit in Routt County in place of the areas that will be closed.

Popular spots include Buffalo Pass, Rabbit Ears Pass, Gore Pass, Lynx Pass, the Bear River Corridor and Dunckley Pass.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10