Commissioners, public to ponder Aspen area ATV use
Here’s a fun fact about the now-ubiquitous presence of all-terrain vehicles at the base of Aspen Mountain during the summer months: They’re illegal on all Pitkin County roads.
That means the parade of ATVs heading up Summer Road and Richmond Hill Road on their way to Taylor Pass — the route the vast majority of Aspen-rented ATVs use in this area, according to county officials — is technically not allowed. The law, however, is not enforced, said Brian Pettet, the county’s public works director.
On Tuesday, the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners took the first step toward remedying that disconnect, and they want the public to chime in.
To that end, Pettet and his staff have come up with four options the county could adopt regarding ATVs or unlicensed, off-highway vehicles in the backcountry.
The first is to do nothing and keep county roads technically free of ATVs.
The second is to open four roads currently co-claimed by Pitkin County and the U.S. Forest Service to ATVs. Those roads include Bear Creek Road in the Woody Creek area as well as Seller Lake Road, Deimer Lake Road and Powerline Road in the Fryingpan drainage.
The third option would open 86 miles of county roads to ATVs, including the Pitkin County portion of Pearl Pass Road, more roads in the Fryingpan area and some in the Prince Creek/Dinkle Lake area.
Finally, the fourth option would open all county roads with less than 100 vehicle trips per day to ATVs. That option includes opening the backside of Aspen Mountain to the vehicles.
Two businesses rent ATVs in Aspen, Pettet said. One reported averaging about four rentals per day between May and November, he said. The second reported about 100 rentals last season, which a business representative said would likely rise to about 150 if the backside of Aspen Mountain is opened to ATVs, Pettet said.
In 2012, the White River National Forest introduced a travel management plan that took seven years of work, said Rich Doak, the forest’s recreation and lands officer. Previously, the forest service allowed ATVs to operate on most roads in the forest, he said.
The new plan allows ATVs to operate on 74 percent of the forest’s 1,396 roads, Doak said. Conversely, less than 2 percent of forest users ride ATVs, he said. The top three user groups include hikers, bikers and those who enjoy viewing natural resources, Doak said.
“We’re providing about twice the area that’s needed (for ATVs),” Doak said.
As a result of the 2012 plan, Rio Blanco County created an ATV trail system for economic reasons that is working well, he said. The Forest Service also opened up roads in the Marble area to ATVs, though that has led to “numerous complaints” from mountain bikers and Jeep tour operators about the vehicles, Doak said.
“There’s no solution in sight” about what to do about that problem, he said.
The Meadow Lake area also opened to increased ATV use, which has displaced other less impactful users like campers and hikers, Doak said.
With that much ATV use in the massive White River National Forest, Pitkin County has become an oasis of sorts, said Doak and Karen Schroyer, ranger for the Aspen-Sopris District of the forest.
“We heard over and over again that people didn’t want (ATV) use (in some areas),” Doak said. “The majority of those opportunities are in Pitkin County.”
Schroyer said Pitkin County is one of the areas of the forest where officials have been able to find a good balance.
“There’s relatively few non (ATV) areas (in Pitkin County), and we would like to keep those,” she said.
County board members Tuesday were receptive to that idea.
Commissioner Greg Poschman worried about noise, impacts on wildlife, impacts on other backcountry users and increased road damage.
“They’re kind of like a leaf-blower on wheels,” he said of ATVs. “I don’t want to be riding my bike or walking back there if they’re operating. It makes me nervous.”
Commissioner Patti Clapper said she’s seen ATVs speeding up and down Summer Road.
“We have serious safety issues up there,” she said.
Clapper said it would take a serious amount of positive public comment for her to approve opening the backside of Aspen Mountain to ATVs.
Commissioner George Newman jokingly suggested a fifth option in which ATV users could be referred to Rio Blanco County.
Pettet said he will organize an open house in the near future to obtain public comment on the proposals. He said he wanted to bring back those comments by April, though Newman said that was likely too soon because some area caucuses might not have had time to meet and grapple with the options by then.
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Under bluebird skies with 160 acres under their boots, hundreds of skiers and snowboarders took to Aspen Mountain for opening day Wednesday.