USFS to delay N. Routt decision | SteamboatToday.com

USFS to delay N. Routt decision

Winter recreation plan on hold

Susan Cunningham

North Routt snowmobilers and skiers will have to wait another year to learn if and how the U.S. Forest Service will separate motorized and nonmotorized uses in the area.

The U.S. Forest Service will not decide on a winter recreation management plan for North Routt County this year because of budgetary constraints. The Forest Service will, however, continue with its Routt National Forest Assessment and its plans for managing winter recreation around Rabbit Ears and Buffalo passes.

“We’re just postponing (the North Routt plan) until next year, we’re not not doing it,” said Diann Ritschard, Forest Service spokeswoman. “It (will) be good to put our efforts and our people and our money into finishing a portion of it this year, and finishing the rest of it next year.”

The Forest Service partnered with Steamboat Lake State Park and Routt County to research the winter recreation management plan in North Routt.

Routt County Planner Chad Phillips said that despite the Forest Service’s decision, the county plans to forge ahead on its update to the Upper Elk River Valley Community Plan.

Although the county hoped to work on the update in collaboration with the Forest Service through the entire process, Phillips said the joint public meetings held had been helpful.

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The county plans to finish its update in mid-summer, Phillips said, if the Routt County Regional Planning Commission agrees that is the best strategy, and will be involved with the Forest Service’s planning process next year.

“At first, I thought that it’s unfortunate because we’re not going to have their preferred alternative as part of our plan, but I think that we have enough direction,” Phillips said. “It was very valuable going through the process to get it to this point.”

Steamboat Lake State Park Manager Ken Brink said he was disappointed and surprised to hear the Forest Service was delaying its North Routt decision, but that the state park would continue to partner with the county on its update to the community plan.

Leslie Lovejoy, executive director of Friends of Routt Backcountry, said she was glad the North Routt decision was delayed.

“It’s really going to be good for us to have a year to work on it,” Lovejoy said. “It’s been happening so fast up there, we always feel like we’re a half a step behind things when they come up.”

As winter recreation continues to increase across the county, the importance of managing it also has increased, Forest Service officials have said.

Management alternatives for Rabbit Ears and Buffalo passes, and also for the North Routt area, have been presented at public meetings across the county this week, with one scheduled for Steamboat Lake State Park today.

Each of the five alternatives for Rabbit Ears and Buffalo passes stipulates no increase in designated and groomed miles of winter trails, and all except a “no action” plan include separation of motorized and nonmotorized uses.

Similarly, four of five alternatives for the North Routt area, which will not be considered until next year, include developing additional parking on Forest Service Road 550, designating a nonmotorized parking lot at the Columbine gravel pit, eliminating trails across private lands and separating motorized and nonmotorized uses. The fifth alternative is the “no action” plan.

On Tuesday, at the first of three open houses scheduled this week, the Forest Service received good, useful comments on the alternative plans, Ritschard said.

“We felt like our alternatives addressed a lot of people’s concerns, but people still want us to do a little tweaking at the maps and the alternatives,” she said.

Public comment on the alternatives will be taken until March 25, then the Forest Service will put together a team to analyze the alternatives and pick one. The goal is to have a plan in place for next winter.

A public meeting will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. today at Steamboat Lake State Park in North Routt. Alternative plans can be viewed online at http://www.fs.fed.us/ r2/mbr.

— To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com