Forest Service travel plan due out soon | AspenTimes.com

Forest Service travel plan due out soon

People who hike, mountain bike or travel by off-road vehicle in the White River National Forest will know by the end of the month if their favorite roads and trails will remain open.The much-anticipated Travel Management Plan for the sprawling forest will be unveiled July 28 after five years of work, according to forest planner Wendy Haskins.”It’s a very comprehensive plan,” she said. “We’re making site-specific decisions on all roads and trails.”And that’s a lot of routes to assess. The 2.3-million-acre White River National Forest stretches from Rifle to Summit County and from north of Glenwood Springs to south of Aspen. It has roughly 1,900 miles of officially designated roads and about the same amount of official trails, Haskins said. The Forest Service estimates there are another 1,000 miles of unauthorized routes.Those routes are known as bandit trails or user-made trails. The travel management process will close some because of damage to the environment, Haskins said. Others will be welcomed into the official inventory because they provide an important benefit to users or, in some cases, are better than an officially designated alternative, she said.In practical terms, the Travel Management Plan will try to solve everything from controversy over backcountry skiing on Richmond Ridge to summer motorcycle use of bandit trails between Basalt and Red Table mountains.Four action alternatives were under consideration, Haskins said. They range from legalizing all current routes in the forest to one that emphasizes protecting natural resources through closures. Another alternative optimizes use of the road and trail network by opening routes to broader uses, while another promotes separating users by designating specific uses on trails.Haskins said a blend of the alternatives could be the final result. The Forest Service will identify a preferred alternative next week, but Haskins wouldn’t spill the beans about the agency’s preference.The public will have 90 days to comment after the unveiling of the plan. A team of forest specialists will review the comments, respond to many and incorporate them into a final decision. Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson’s decision is expected sometime in 2007.The Travel Management Plan will be available on compact disc starting next week at any Forest Service district office. Copies will also be distributed to local libraries. A website will also provide information at http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/projects/travel_management/.The Forest Service will also hold open houses to answer questions. For the Roaring Fork Valley, the open house will be from 3-7 p.m. Aug. 23 at the El Jebel Community Building.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com