County backs off on plan to restrict Smuggler Road
Pitkin County lost its resolve Wednesday evening when it came down to closing upper Smuggler Mountain Road to vehicular use.
The Pitkin County commissioners adopted a management plan for the Hunter Creek-Smuggler Mountain area, but only after removing a provision that would have closed Smuggler Road. The board was swayed by number of residents who showed up at yesterday’s meeting to protest the pending closure.
The closure was originally recommended by the Hunter Creek Task Force, a citizens group convened to make recommendations for management of the area, because drivers and motorcyclists have damaged fragile alpine meadows by driving off-road. The closure was backed by Forest Service officials.
The recommendations of the task force were adopted by the county in the form of a master plan for management of the Hunter Creek-Smuggler Mountain area. The majority of task force members called for the road closure because there seemed to be no other way to protect the area from abuse.
The task force, made up of 13 individuals who hike, hunt, ride and own property in the Hunter Creek Valley, convened last November to create a master plan for management of the area.
At the suggestion of Commissioner Leslie Lamont, board chairwoman, some of those who spoke out against the closure are to form another committee and draft a “compliance and enforcement plan” for the road and further study the issue of motorized use of the road.
Early in the discussion, Commissioner Shellie Harper voiced a desire to see some kind of self-policing by users of the road. But Forest Service Recreation Specialist Rich Doak said he didn’t hold much hope for the success of such a idea. To illustrate his point, he brought with him a road closure sign that had been uprooted and tossed aside.
“The concern I’d have with a self-monitoring program is that to date, we haven’t had much success with them in this area,” Doak said. He said a self-policing program would take a lot of personal commitment by a lot of people.
Citizen Landon Deane wondered whether the damage done by off-road driving was being exaggerated. “It’s really not that bad,” she said. She suggested a seasonal closure in the spring when the road is boggy and the land is most fragile, arguing also that damage done by a few shouldn’t bring punishment to all users.
“Please don’t kill all the dogs because one of them has fleas,” she begged. “I’d hate to see such a drastic closure because one or two people have screwed up.”
Chuck Lyons told the commissioners the meadows on Smuggler Mountain were subjected to worse trashing in the late ’60s and early ’70s than they have been recently.
“I think the abuses have subsided a lot,” he said.
Tom Lane argued that the road should not be closed to snowmobiles.
After all the comments were heard, Chairwoman Lamont suggested removing the Smuggler closure from the management plan ordinance.
“I suggest that we not vote on it at this time, but allow a time for people in this room to come up with a recommendation,” she said.
The board, with Commissioner Mick Ireland absent, agreed.
The closure of Smuggler Road was one of several specific recommendations in the management plan. The remaining elements are:
n Adopt existing trails and prohibit new trails.
n Eliminate vehicular use on North and South Hunter Valley Road and the Smuggler Cutoff Road. (One track each on the North and South roads would be revegetated, leaving a single track.)
n Create maps of the Hunter Creek Valley and make them available to the public.
n Maintain current restrictions on Hunter Creek Toll Road.
n Close Logging Road to all vehicles.
n Adopt maintenance plan priorities.
n Formalize Bald Knob Road as open to hunters. (Bald Knob has been officially closed, but no sign is there to indicate the closure. It will be open if the recommendations are formalized.
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