Hikers, skiers gain; bikers lose | AspenTimes.com

Hikers, skiers gain; bikers lose

Snowmobilers and mountain bikers lost a little ground in the Aspen area in the revised White River National Forest Plan.

Cross country skiers and hikers were treated to more peace and quiet.

Downhill skiers can expect the status quo to continue.

The new forest plan, which dictates the U.S. Forest Service’s management practices for the next 15 years, reduces the terrain open to snowmobilers in some select areas.

“Motorized use is now prohibited in several areas to avoid conflicts with non-motorized users,” said a Forest Service summary of the plan.

Mount Yeckel in the Lenado area northeast of Aspen will be closed to snowmobiles because it is favored terrain by users of the nearby Margy’s Hut.

The area south of Hay Park near the lower slopes of Mount Sopris will also be closed. “The intent of this change is to more clearly define the boundary, and hence reduce motorized incursions into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area,” Forest Service material said.

In the Hagerman Pass area, snowmobilers will be directed to stay on the trails and in clearly defined “play areas.”

The final plan did ease up on one proposed restriction. A 1999 recommendation to sharply limit winter use in the Four Mile Area near Sunlight Mountain Resort was dropped.

Bikers win some, lose some

Wilderness expansion will wipe out one trail loop option in the midvalley for mountain bikers, but another popular route skirted the proposed wilderness boundary.

The forest plan recommends designating 50,000 acres on Red Table Mountain and Gypsum Creek as wilderness. Although that will require an act of Congress, the Forest Service will start managing the terrain as a wilderness study area within about 30 days.

That means mountain bikers won’t be able to use the Ruedi Trail – traditionally used as either a wicked grunt up to Red Table Mountain en route to Basalt Mountain or as a classic downhill.

Mountain bikers fared better on the Braderich Creek Trail, which heads north from the Redstone area and connects with the network of roads and trails in the Willow Park area of Thompson Creek. Braderich Creek remains just outside the western boundary of the proposed 12,000-acre Assignation Ridge wilderness.

However, a popular connection to the Perham Creek Trail will be off-limits due to the wilderness designation.

In addition to the Red Table and Assignation Ridge wilderness proposals, the forest plan suggests adding 4,100 acres east of Aspen to the inventory of the existing Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness.

The Forest Service wants to add 3,000 acres on steep terrain that stretches along the north side of Highway 82 from North Star Nature Preserve to Lost Man. Another 1,100 acres of steep terrain on the northern flank of Smuggler Mountain, south of Hunter Creek, was also pegged for wilderness.

Aspen Ranger Jim Upchurch said neither designation would affect existing trails or climbing areas. The additions would be mostly aesthetic in value because of the steep terrain.

The forest plan doesn’t anticipate much of an increase in the size of ski areas in Pitkin County nor in the demand. The plan would allow modest growth for Vail and Beaver Creek and a more substantial increase for Summit County’s areas.

The Forest Service initially planned to limit expansion to areas already within ski areas’ permit areas. However, some ski area operators and Colorado Congressman Scott McInnis argued for more flexibility in potential expansions.

The new expansion philosophy was justified on grounds that demand from the Front Range will require expansion in the Summit County areas of Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin and some expansion in Eagle County’s Vail and Beaver Creek resorts.

The Aspen Skiing Co. shocked the ski industry by essentially signing off on the plan to limit expansions to currently permitted areas. The Forest Service took the offer to heart.

“Comparatively little growth is expected in the local population, Aspen is too remote to gain many skiers from the Front Range, and the out-of-state destination business is flat and likely to remain so,” a Forest Service summary of the forest plan said.

Expansion potential at Aspen Highlands was reduced from 3,427 to 1,620 acres, mostly due to elimination of Maroon Bowl.

Snowmass’ ski area zoning area was reduced from 6,670 to 5,000 acres.

Aspen Mountain has the potential for a 255-acre expansion on public lands, including a minor expansion into Pandora’s Basin.

Buttermilk can increase its expansion from 633 acres under the old forest plan to 833 acres in the new plan.

Altogether, acres zoned for potential expansion will be reduced by 72 percent. Expansion in the Owl Creek area, between Buttermilk and Snowmass, has been eliminated.

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