Andersen: Beware the fossil fools
Two weeks ago, I witnessed a dystopian nightmare just across the Elk Range in the Taylor River District of the Gunnison National Forest. Any semblance of multiple use in that district — a bulwark of the National Forest System — has been lost to the mass monoculture of motors.
What I saw from the seat of a bicycle during a self-supported bike tour from Buena Vista to Aspen via Tin Cup and Taylor passes was beyond belief. Riding the long climb up Chalk Creek toward the historic town of St. Elmo, we were passed by dozens of trucks towing trailers loaded with hundreds of all-terrain vehicles.
I hadn’t ridden over Tin Cup Pass in 15 years. Back then, you would encounter a few friendly Jeepers, but now everyone’s got their own ride, entire families on ATVs churning up boulder-strewn roads with erosive force.
Dirt bikes have long been the bane of non-motorized sensibilities, but dirt bikes are outnumbered 10 to 1 in the Taylor District. The old ghost town of St. Elmo was nose-to-tail with swarms of puttering, fume-spewing ATVs.
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Tin Cup was even worse. This quaint, old ghost town was once a peaceful summer residence where people hiked, fished and rode horses. Today the constant drone of motors drowns out all else.
The Gunnison National Forest has become a corporate-sponsored motocross and speedway for anyone capable of twisting a throttle or tromping a gas pedal. Polaris, Arctic Cat, Honda, John Deere, Suzuki and Yamaha provide the machines while Texas, Oklahoma and other Southern states furnish eager customers whose prurient pleasures blot out other forest users with noise, speed and PM-10 airborne particulates.
Dust masks were the norm for riders who roared past us at 50 mph, oblivious to the pall of dust lingering in the air for those of us without masks to choke on. The Forest Service should issue breathing masks at the Taylor River District boundaries and post signs for the unwary, warning of dust pollution. A skull and crossbones would suffice.
By condoning ATV mayhem, the Forest Service has become a willing partner in climate change and ecosystem destruction. Multiple use is a joke when public-land managers allow a plague of motor toys to run roughshod over public lands, permitting the theme-park-like antics of the motorized minority to exclude quiet forest users from vast acreages.
The ATV craze reflects the overbearing myopia of American culture that demands entitlement to cheap fossil fuels and precious public lands at inestimable public cost to both resources. What we get is a spectacle of insensitivity, insensibility and profitability, all at the expense of sustainability.
The fossil fools gunning their engines throughout the Taylor District are frivolously escaping the unendurable summer heat of their native climes, the result of climate change. At cool elevations, they add yet more carbon to what was once pure mountain air. The motors have won. The machines are in control. Peace and quiet are sacrificed for noise, power and tourism.
So far, this disastrous blight is contained on the other side of the Elk Mountains, but a tendril of it stretches all the way to Aspen via Richmond Ridge. Worse than the bark beetle or sudden aspen decline or any agent of the natural world, this blight, which could threaten our peaceful national forests, is a man-made, industrial toxin that, once established, is harder to eradicate than the thistle.
Snowmobiles already have compromised the backcountry experience at Barnard Hut. They also threaten the Friends’ Hut. If the ATV wave is allowed to sweep in from the south, Ashcroft could become a stopover for hundreds of idling motors.
Some say, “They’re loving it to death.” But there is no love for a prostitute, which is what the earth becomes when power toys define the pursuit of fun. Nature becomes a mere trials course, a backdrop for thrills.
The Gunnison National Forest should confront this imbalance before it’s allowed to spread any further. There needs to be pushback against the tsunami of ATV aspirants whose legacy is written in wasted fuel, ruined air quality, mono-use and perpetual noise.
Beware the fossil fools!
Paul Andersen’s column appears Mondays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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