Rangers make rare bust for snowmobiles poaching land
Forest rangers in Aspen know that snowmobiles regularly venture into prohibited areas of wilderness that surround the town. But until recently, they rarely could catch the culprits.
Three men from the Colorado River Valley were unlucky enough to get caught red-handed driving their machines out of the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness accessed from Independence Pass on Saturday, May 24. All three were ticketed for operating a motor vehicle in national forest wilderness, according to Aspen District Ranger Jim Upchurch.
He said it was the first time snowmobilers have been caught for riding in prohibited areas during his three years as ranger. He acknowledged that even when violators are caught, the $75 fine is little deterrence.
The men ticketed were Jonathan Coalson, 38, of Rifle; Cody Gremel, 38, of Glenwood Springs; and Todd Peck, 42, of New Castle, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Officials said the men unloaded off the side of Highway 82 and rode their machines onto the Lost Man Loop trailhead, then climbed to the Linkins Lake area, about a half mile into wilderness. There they scrambled around and apparently were taking turns trying to establish a high mark on a steep hillside.
A ranger happened to be up on the pass monitoring all the backcountry skiing. It was a busy day since it was the first weekend the road was open. Snow conditions on the pass have been remarkable for so late in the spring.
The ranger was alerted about the intrusion into wilderness and waited at the trailers for the men to return. They were ticketed without incident.
Tim Lamb, a ranger with the Aspen district, said illegal snowmobile use in wilderness isn’t as high here as it is in many other areas of Colorado. However there are areas around Aspen where there is easy access to wilderness lands.
“We have a few problem spots,” he said. Richmond Ridge is among them. Snowmobiles are allowed on designated routes, but they often venture off.
Lamb said a ranger also talked to a man who said he tries to complete the Lost Man Loop every winter. The man claimed he wasn’t aware snowmobile use was prohibited there even though he has lived in the area some 30-odd years.
Lamb said the Forest Service simply cannot mark all potential access points with signs warning that travel in wilderness is prohibited.
“We can’t have signs for 200 miles of perimeter,” he said.
Forest Service officials hope this bust will discourage other snowmobilers from making illegal trips in future winters, despite the measly fine.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com]
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