USFS proposes travel limits in popular White River forest |

USFS proposes travel limits in popular White River forest

Catherine Tsai
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Proposed U.S. Forest Service travel limits on hikers, bikers and ATVs in western Colorado’s White River National Forest would keep motorized vehicles off about 150 miles of dirt roads while formally adding 280 miles of routes created by users over the years.

The Forest Service released its proposal Thursday in a supplemental draft environmental impact statement for the 2.5 million-acre forest, home to some of the country’s top ski resorts, including Aspen, Snowmass and Vail. It incorporates public comments on a 2006 plan.

With the use of off-road vehicles exploding, a rule issued in 2005 requires forests to designate routes for motorized vehicles.

The Forest Service examined about 4,000 miles of its own roads and trails and more than 1,000 miles of trails created by recreational and commercial users. Its preferred option would close 150 miles of dirt roads to vehicles due to resource and maintenance concerns, said acting Forest Supervisor Mary Morgan.

About 140 miles of dirt roads would be managed as trails for ATVs but not larger vehicles. The plan would end the use of unlicensed motorized vehicles on about 500 miles of roads and add about 280 miles of routes created by users. Other user-created routes would be rehabilitated.

A second option would leave things the way they are. A third would rehabilitate all user-created routes.

Morgan said hikers and cross-country skiers would see very little change under the proposed plan but that mountain bike riders would be limited to roads and designated trails. Some routes would be closed to horseback riders, but the number of trails open to them overall will increase, she said.

“The way people use and travel in the White River National Forest is different today than it was even 10 years ago, to say nothing of how it was done a century ago,” Morgan said in a written statement. “There are new pressures put on the land every year. These changed conditions have brought about a need to change the way we, the Forest Service, manage the way people travel on the national forest.”

The public has until Jan. 6 to submit comments. A final rule likely will be issued in the spring or summer, said White River spokesman Pat Thrasher.

Thrasher said some of the 1,400 public comments on the 2006 plan included concerns about whether bird watchers can enjoy the forest with ATVs on neighboring trails, the safety of dirt bikes on routes shared with RVs, and what the Forest Service can afford to maintain.

Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop, said he was concerned about adding routes carved by people taking repeated detours off designated routes. “That’s the kind of use I don’t feel should be rewarded by bringing an abandoned route into the system and legitimizing it,” Shoemaker said.

“We’re looking to make sure there’s big wild spaces left between the roads so that the wildlife who rely on this habitat have the opportunity to continue to persist,” Shoemaker said.

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