Task force seeks road closure on Smuggler Mtn.
A citizen task force is recommending that Smuggler Mountain Road be closed to motor vehicles at the National Forest boundary.Members of the Hunter Creek Task Force presented their recommendations for roads and trails in the Hunter Creek Valley to Pitkin County commissioners yesterday. The recommendations will take the form of a master plan for management of the Hunter Creek-Smuggler Mountain area, if adopted by the county. The road would remain open for vehicular use only by licensed hunters, who could drive as far as a permanent closure about one-half mile from Warren Lakes atop Smuggler.The commissioners asked Deputy Director of Public Works Brian Pettet, who led the task force, to prepare an ordinance for the board to vote on next Wednesday. The plan would be the subject of a public hearing before a final decision is made.The closure of Smuggler road is one of several specific recommendations made by the task force. The others are:-Adopt existing trails and prohibit new trails.-Eliminate vehicular use on North and South Hunter Valley Road and Smuggler Cutoff Road. (One track each on the North and South roads would be revegetated, leaving a single track.)-Create maps of the Hunter Creek Valley and make them available to the public.-Maintain current restrictions on Hunter Creek Toll Road.-Close logging road to all vehicles.-Adopt maintenance plan priorities.-Formalize Bald Knob Road as open to hunters. (Bald Knob has been officially closed, but no closure sign is posted there. It will be open if the recommendations are formalized.)Rich Doak, a Forest Service recreation specialist, said from his agency’s perspective, two reasons to close Smuggler Road stand out. First, the road is in terrible condition and is subject to erosion. “It’s going to take a lot of maintenance to get it to where it’s not causing a lot of erosion,” he said.Second, it takes motorized traffic to an area that’s subject to a lot of trespassing. “Toward the end of that road, we have a huge trespass problem in wilderness with motorized vehicles,” Doak said. He said probably 90 percent of the off-road violations are by motorcyclists.Commissioner Patti Clapper cautioned the other board members that closing a public road might come back to haunt them. But Commission Chairwoman Leslie Lamont argued that a closure could be reversed if public sentiment demands it in the future.Commissioner Shellie Roy Harper said she thinks the road should remain open, but agreed it appears the county will be forced to close it to prevent abuse by people riding off the road.Task force member Charlie Hopton told the commissioners that the decision to close the road wasn’t easy for the diverse group. “We hashed this over and over,” he said. Neither closing the road nor leaving it open offered a desirable choice, he said, because of the illegal use.Landon Deane argued for leaving the road open, saying too many four-wheel-drive opportunities have been lost to families, older people and disabled people who can’t hike or bicycle in the backcountry.Commissioner Mick Ireland, in agreement with the task force recommendation, said money is not available for maintenance on Smuggler Road. “The voters have twice, now, voted to delete sources of revenue for road maintenance,” he said. He called those votes a mandate.
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