Off-road enthusiasts seek equal treatment in forests
The White River National Forest’s proposed new plan for trail use is a step in the right direction but still shortchanges the growing legions of off-road vehicle enthusiasts, according to an organizer of motorized user groups.Don Riggle credited the U.S. Forest Service for considering an increase in the miles of trails available to motorcyclists, all-terrain vehicle riders and four-wheel enthusiasts. “They’ve made great strides,” he said.Riggle is the director of operations for the Basalt-based Colorado 500 Inc. and an operations manager for the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Association.He’s been scrutinizing the travel management plan that the Forest Service unveiled last week. That plan will decide which of the White River National Forest’s 4,000 miles of roads and trails will remain open and for what types of uses. It also settles the fate of about 1,045 miles of “bandit trails” created by users over the years.In that plan, the Forest Service considered three alternatives: One that promotes more access and opportunities for motorized and non-motorized uses; one that emphasizes protection of resources by closing some routes; and one that melds the two concepts. The compromise alternative is preferred by the agency.Riggle said he will lobby the Forest Service to open more miles of trails and routes to motorized uses than the agency contemplates in its preferred alternative.He stressed that he isn’t pushing to create more roads or trails in the White River National Forest. He just wants more of the existing routes – old logging roads and user-created single track trails – opened to off-road users. He’s also willing to leave wilderness lands alone. They are closed to all motorized and mechanized uses so they will be untrammeled by humans.Equal rights for all usersWhat Riggle wants is an “equitable distribution” of opportunities on non-wilderness forest lands. “Why can’t some [greater] percentage of that be available to the off-highway community?” he asked.Environmentalists and some hikers and mountain bikers want larger sections of non-wilderness lands closed to motorized uses for what Riggle claimed is “elitist” reasons. “People think it’s their private backyard,” he said. “People need to share what little is left open for all.”A significant part of the national forest around the Roaring Fork Valley is permanently closed to vehicles. In the Aspen District, 173,500 of 275,600 acres of national forest is wilderness. In the Sopris District, 142,400 of 432,300 acres is wilderness.Riggle said the Forest Service and environmental groups have created additional “buffers” around wilderness areas by closing access for motorized uses. As an example, he notes that the area between the Frying Pan Valley and Aspen, via Lenado, used to have routes opened to motorcyclists. Those have been closed to create, he suspects, a buffer for the Hunter-Frying Pan Wilderness.The White River National Forest has clamped down harder on OHV uses than surrounding forests to the detriment of its neighbors, according to Riggle. Limited opportunities in the Aspen area, for example, have pushed uses into the Taylor Park area, southeast of Ashcroft via Express Creek Road and Taylor Pass. Taylor Park, in the Gunnison National Forest, is “inundated” with motorcycles and ATVs because it is channeled there. Demand is greater than the supply.Explosive growth, growing expectationsOff-highway groups have long contended that they should get more access because of the explosive growth of their form of recreation. Riggle said aging Baby Boomers face a tougher time hiking great distances in the woods, so they rely more on off-highway vehicles. National demographics promise to increase that trend, he said.The Forest Service acknowledges that boom in motorized uses. Off-highway vehicle use grew sevenfold in the U.S. from 5 million owners and users in 1972 to 36 million in 2000, according to the agency’s national web site. About 11 million visits to national forests were for OHV use in 2000, according to the agency.Mike Thuillier, an Aspen native and owner of the KTM of Aspen motorcycle shop in Carbondale, said the Roaring Fork Valley is also experiencing explosive growth in off-highway vehicle use. When he was a kid growing up in Aspen, lots of riding was concentrated on the Hunter Creek and Smuggler area.Popularity of motorcycle riding has probably quadrupled since then, but opportunities haven’t matched that growth, he said.Thuillier is just starting to dive into the massive Travel Management Plan proposal – which has 384 pages of text and 1,400 maps, but he said he is encouraged by what he has seen so far. In the Basalt Mountain area, for example, the Forest Service is authorizing a loop system of about 50 to 60 miles.”That’s a big step forward,” Thuillier said.While riders in the Roaring Fork Valley tend to be independent and not well organized, Thuillier is among a group that hopes to organize riders so they can analysis and comment on the Forest Service’s proposal.One issue facing motorized users is the Forest Service’s determination to create tougher rules. In 2003, the Forest Service chief declared unmitigated recreation one of the four threats to national forest health. As a result, off-highway vehicle use has been targeted for regulation.Riggle insisted that problems like illegal creation of trails would be alleviated if more authorized routes existed for motorcycles and ATVs. The success of the new Travel Management Plan will depend on providing enough routes to satisfy the demand for that growing use, he said.The Forest Service has CDs with the proposed Travel Management Plan available at its offices in Aspen, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. It’s also posted at the White River National Forest web site: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/projects/travel_management/.The agency is taking public comments on the proposal until late October.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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