County, feds talk recreational vehicles |

County, feds talk recreational vehicles

John Colson
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” It seems like a recipe either for a renewed clash of cultures, a clash of budgetary priorities, or the kind of cooperation among government agencies that voters would like to see happen more often.

And it has to do with how people have fun in the backcountry.

Pitkin County and the U.S. Forest Service together control access to large tracts of public lands where people like to recreate, whether on cross-country skis, snowshoes, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) or other conveyances.

Ever since gas-powered recreational vehicles were first built, there have been conflicts between those who want peace and quiet in their backcountry experiences and groups that enjoy the speed, noise and rush of powering a big machine up and down the hills and trails, whether in summer or winter.

Government agencies have tried to satisfy the desires and demands of the various advocacy groups, and backcountry uses of all kinds have mushroomed throughout the West, specifically in the White River National Forest surrounding Aspen and the Roaring Fork River drainage region. Conflicts remain, and occasionally explode into controversy, as the different agencies and governing bodies each come up with their own sets of rules and regulations to control the situation.

During a recent meeting, officials from Pitkin County and the Forest Service concluded that something should be done to straighten out a body of sometime conflicting rules governing the use of snowmobiles and ATVs.

The topic arose when the Aspen District Ranger Irene Davidson on hand for a work session with county commissioners, pointed out that county roads in the Pearl Pass area are controlled by two conflicting bodies of regulations ” federal and local.

“Your roads are not designated for ATVs,” she told the commissioners, after explaining that Forest Service roads in the same region are open to ATVs as well as snowmobiles.

Davidson is preparing to release draft recommendations for a new “travel management” component to the Forest Master Plan, and told the commissioners she hopes that the county and her agency can come up with a coherent approach to the issue for areas throughout the Roaring Fork region.

“The rules are inconsistent,” agreed Commissioner Dorothea Farris, adding that she would prefer if the USFS simply agreed to honor the county’s prohibition against ATV use on county roads and leave it at that.

“I’d rather keep it closed,” she said of the usage, expanding her view to include the idea of hunters driving up to Forest Service trail heads hauling trailers, parking along the county road and off-loading snowmobiles or ATVs to head off into the bush in search of game.

Davidson said the agency tries to build parking areas at trailheads to avoid just such a conflict with the county. “If there’s no trailhead, we are not proposing … they park on the county road” and take off into public lands from that point.

County roads supervisor Brian Pettet remarked that no county roads are designated for use by unlicensed vehicles, although patrol supervisor Tom Grady of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office added that in Colorado, snowmobiles can use county roads thanks to friendly state regulations.

“They have their own laws,” he said of the snowmobiling community, explaining that snowmobilers must obey traffic laws and stay as far to the right of a public road as they can get to avoid conflicts with cars.

Still, Pettet said, snowmobilers, off-road motorcyclists and ATV users all have been known to park trucks and trailers along county roads despite prohibitions, drive along county roads and ignore applicable laws.

The commissioners agreed with Davidson that their two agencies should join forces in trying to draw up a coherent set of rules that spell out exactly what is allowed and what is not.

The commissioners directed Pettet, along Grady, to review the Forest Service draft travel management plan in the near future and report back on its provisions.

Davidson said the draft travel management plan is due to be released for comment in June.

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