Will forest plan affect yourfavorite neck of the woods?
August 23, 2006
A decade or so ago, the U.S. Forest Service recognized the growing popularity of mountain biking in the midvalley and eyed Basalt Mountain as a place to meet some of that demand.The agency pieced together some old logging roads and routes through the woods, created some new singletrack through rock gardens and carved switchbacks into a steep hillside to guide cyclists down to Cattle Creek.The loop that resulted was closed to motorized uses and evolved into one of the most popular rides in the midvalley for mountain bikers.The gig might be up: A small stretch of the Basalt Mountain-Cattle Creek loop is under consideration for expanded use in a new Forest Service plan that will dictate travel patterns in the White River National Forest for years to come. That document, called a Travel Management Plan, determines how the thousands of miles of roads and trails in the sprawling 2.3 million-acre forest will be managed and what to do with 1,000 miles of illegal or “bandit” routes.The Forest Service’s “preferred alternative” for the plan would open about 1.5 miles of the popular Basalt Mountain-Cattle Creek loop to all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles. While most of the existing loop would remain the exclusive domain of mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians, they would have to share a stretch they aren’t used to sharing.The 384 pages of text and 1,400 maps in the draft Travel Management Plan contain a few proposals that various users might find controversial, according to Tim Lamb, a backcountry recreation ranger for the Forest Service’s Aspen District.On Basalt Mountain, increasing the mix of uses could create conflicts in an area already heavily traveled.”We probably have more use up there than anywhere,” Lamb said.In another popular part of the forest, the draft plan proposes adding routes for hikers. Four spur trails off the Lost Man Loop in the wilderness east of Aspen are proposed in the Forest Service’s preferred alternative.One would go to Sioux Lake and another to Scott Lake. A third would head up Jack Creek, and a fourth would climb Geissler Mountain, the hump that the loop circles.”The reason for that is to accommodate recreation demand,” Lamb said.While some hikers might welcome the addition of spurs, others might argue it makes no sense to add to the trail system when the Forest Service has trouble maintaining what exists, Lamb said.The agency held an open house Wednesday in El Jebel to help interested citizens digest the vast amounts of information in the draft Travel Management Plan. Lamb’s advice to some of the handful of people who visited was to concentrate on areas and routes most important to them rather than try to look at implications for the entire forest.Rob Morey of Snowmass Village said he will take that advice to heart and concentrate on some areas he knows well. He was one of about 30 interested citizens who had popped into the open house by 6:30 p.m.Morey said he is a “heavy trail user” who does a lot of mountain biking, some hiking and a little motorcycle riding. He wants to know more about the Travel Management Plan because it has such big implications for forest users for the next several years. The last plan was completed in the mid-1980s.He left the open house with two computers discs with all the maps and text. After studying the proposal, he intends to submit comments.The Forest Service will accept comments until Oct. 26. It will review them all, respond to most, then release a final document.White River National Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson has said that the agency’s preferred alternative will likely be combined with pieces of two other alternatives – one that tries to accommodate recreation for more users and one that emphasizes natural resources and wildlife habitat.The draft Travel Management Plan can be found at the White River National Forest’s website: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/projects/travel_management/. It includes a link to submit comments.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.