Forest Service finishes plan to manage White River |

Forest Service finishes plan to manage White River

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy U.S. Forest Service

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A plan released Wednesday after seven years of work attempts to juggle recreation demands with the protection of natural resources in Colorado’s White River National Forest, billed as the country’s most-visited forest.

The final plan for managing traffic in the forest calls for closing hundreds of miles of unauthorized roads and detailing where motorized vehicles can go.

The 2.3 million-acre forest, which has about 10 million visitors yearly, encompasses some of Colorado’s premier ski areas, including the Aspen and Vail resorts. Eight wilderness areas and 10 peaks higher than 14,000 feet are also within the forest’s borders.

“How roads and trails are laid out on the landscape has a tremendous effect on the resources we are entrusted to steward for the American public,” Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said in a statement.

But some environmentalists say the plan doesn’t go far enough to protect the forest in Colorado’s central mountains. Sloan Shoemaker of the Wilderness Workshop said while the plan caps years of hard work, public meetings and negotiations, it has some significant shortcomings.

One of those shortcomings is the inclusion of 225 miles of “bandit roads” as part of the travel management plan, Shoemaker said. The roads weren’t authorized by the Forest Service, but were carved out by people going off the official routes.

“Illegal route development is rampant in many parts of the forest and rewarding this behavior will ensure that it continues,” Shoemaker.

Another concern is the growing problem from vehicles driving to unmanaged, dispersed camp sites, Shoemaker added.

Forest officials say the 225 miles of illegal routes made street legal were found to be “important to the travel networks, of value to users and in good condition.”

Nearly 700 miles of unauthorized roads and another 519 miles of roads no longer needed or not properly closed in the past will be decommissioned and the areas restored, according to the plan.

The document also specifies which roads and trails are open to motorized vehicles and distinguishes between winter and summer travel. The Forest Service also completed an environmental analysis of the plan.

For more on the local implications of the plan, see Thursday’s Aspen Times.

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