Area may dodge bullet in travel plan
July 28, 2006
A new plan that will dictate use of roads and trails in the White River National Forest might not prove as controversial in Aspen as in the forest’s other six districts.”The Aspen District has the least amount of roads and trails,” said Wendy Jo Haskins, the lead planner on the Travel Management Plan.In addition, a significant part of the national forest surrounding Aspen is already designated wilderness, which prohibits all motorized and mechanized uses.It will take days, if not weeks, for mountain bike enthusiasts, dirt bikers and other forest users to digest all details of the travel management plan. There are 384 pages of text and 1,400 maps to ponder. However, a preliminary glance by The Aspen Times didn’t produce any big surprises.The popular Hunter Creek Valley, known as Aspen recreational playgrounds, remains designated for nonmotorized uses such as hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.Express Creek Road, which heads up Taylor Pass from Ashcroft, and Richmond Ridge remain open to a mix of nonmotorized and motorized uses in summertime.Dirt bikers will find mixed results in a network of trails and roads in the Kobey Park area in the mountains above Lenado. Several unauthorized trails will be closed while others were added to official network, according to the draft plan.Farther downvalley, the draft plan legalized several “bandit trails” that dirt bikers created from Cattle Creek onto the slopes of Red Table Mountain.In the Forest Service’s preferred alternative there would be 105 closures in the Aspen district, mostly involving fragments of user-created “bandit” routes. Another 45 segments that were unauthorized were added.Throughout the 2.3 million-acre forest, nonmotorized uses retain access to a much larger amount of trails and roads. Hikers, for example, have 4,655 miles of routes open to them while mountain bikers enjoy access to 3,043 miles under the Forest Service’s preferred alternative.Among motorized uses, ATVs have access to 1,761 miles of roads and trails; dirt bikers have 2,097 miles open to them under the preferred plan.Haskins said the agency didn’t undertake the plan with a goal of closing a set amount of roads and trails. “It’s not a numbers game. It’s what’s the best way to serve the area,” she said.When recommending closures, it’s because that “is the best thing for the land,” said Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson. To enforce those closures, the Forest Service must clearly mark routes with signs and produce new travel maps, she said.The existing policy dictates that users must assume anything that’s not marked as “open” is “closed.” But signs aren’t always clear throughout the thousands of miles of roads and trails.”Frankly, right now it’s difficult,” Gustafson said. “Even well-meaning individuals” can find themselves on closed routes.Once the trails are marked better – after the travel management plan is completed next summer – the Forest Service will still need voluntary compliance from forest visitors to make the system work, Gustafson said.”We’ll never have enough law enforcement officers to deal with [forest visitors] if they don’t intend to be law-abiding citizens,” she said.The Forest Service opened a 90-day public comment period on its draft travel management plan Friday. To review the document, a CD is available at the Forest Service offices at Aspen, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. The information is also online at http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/projects/travel_management/.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.