Some popular ‘bandit’ trails near Aspen legalized by TMP
ASPEN – Some popular trails in Aspen’s Smuggler Mountain-Hunter Creek area were “legalized” by the Travel Management Plan (TMP) released Wednesday by the U.S. Forest Service.
In a handful of other areas, routes that mountain bikers have traditionally used were closed.
And the plan fails to resolve one of the biggest access conflicts – winter use of lands accessed from Richmond Ridge on the top of Aspen Mountain.
But at first glance, the TMP doesn’t appear to implement many major changes in the Aspen or Sopris Ranger Districts. Throughout the White River National Forest, the agency will work to close 692 miles of roads and trails that were unauthorized, and another 519 miles that are currently in use will be decommissioned.
Many of the closures have little practical effect on forest visitors. For example, there is an obscure trail to Sioux Lake off the Lost Man Loop. It is hard to follow from lack of use over the years and it is in Wilderness, so it is open only to equestrians and hikers.
The Forest Service is decommissioning that trail, essentially declaring it won’t spend time or money on its maintenance, said Wendy Haskins, resources and planning staff officer for the White River National Forest. Adventurous hikers will still be able to hike the lake, traveling cross country. The forest is “open use” for hikers and equestrians, meaning they can stray off established routes. Motorized vehicles and bicycles must stay on designated routes.
Many of the routes targeted for closure are short spurs or overlooks off routes that will remain open. Many of the routes are old roads cut for timber sales or spurs to mining claims or mines, according to Rich Doak, recreation staff officer.
Still, not all closures will be benign. In the Buzzard Basin area, near Hay Park in the shadow of Mount Sopris, mountain bikers started using a network of old cow paths to add some diversity to their rides. While part of a trail into Buzzard Basin is authorized, another part will be decommissioned, as will a spur, according to the TMP.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment for cyclists will be the continued closure of the Ruedi Trail, which connects the Ruedi Reservoir area near the entrance to the Little Maude campground to Red Table Mountain. The Forest Service closed the trail to cyclists within the last decade because the area is managed as potential Wilderness.
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis proposed a Wilderness bill last month that excludes the Ruedi Trail from the Wilderness boundary to keep open the option of reopening the trail for cyclists.
The TMP was just released Wednesday and representatives of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association couldn’t be reached for comment.
In the national forest in the high ground above Lenado, the Forest Service tried to create a trail system for motorcycle riders that presents them with opportunities to make a loop rather than just go out and back on one trail, Doak said. Numerous spurs in the Kobey Park area will be decommissioned.
Popular motorcycle trails connecting Cattle Creek to Red Table Mountain were also preserved as a system.
Popular mountain bike trails in Aspen’s backyard, such as the Gandolf and Hobbit trails in the Four Corners area and the Iowa Shaft Trails on the shoulder of Smuggler Mountain are among the 225 miles of former bandit routes that will be legalized. Those user-created routes have been popular since the 1990s and now have the formal blessing of the Forest Service.
Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, said his concern is that incorporating bandit trails into the system just promotes creation of additional bandit trails. The people who create the trails will see no downside to their actions, he said.
Other issues are yet to play out. Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said his team didn’t try to address Richmond Ridge winter use issues in the TMP. Aspen District Ranger Scott Snelson will continue to negotiate the issue with the Aspen Skiing Co. and backcountry skiers and riders who access slopes off Richmond Ridge via snowmobile.
In the meantime, it will be managed as it has in the recent past. Snowmobiles will be banned from travel off the county road on the ridgetop. The Skico has a permit to use forest lands for its powder tours. It accesses the area with snowcats.
A citizens’ group, PowderToThePeople.org, wants the restrictions on snowmobiles lifted.
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