It only takes a few bad apples
Christmas is over, and we are now down to the business of winter, a most delightful and challenging time of the year and my favorite season. A big part of the winter business lately seems to be the X Games, an event, or rather events, that are good for the soul of Aspen. As locals, whatever that term means, we like to think of ourselves as a sort of pristine bunch, environmentally sensitive, ahead of the curve when it comes to protecting the natural world that surrounds us and doing more good than harm (to the environment), generally speaking.Why the Aspen Skiing Co. has turned up the heat on the environmental bandwagon in conjunction with the X Games, such as inviting one of the Kennedys to speak, is a thought uncompleted, I think. But it’s good that someone is trying to get the ear of not only the locals, but also of the X Games participants and onlookers as to environmental issues. However, without trying to go national, we should be advised that there are environmental problems right here at home that need to be addressed at any time of the year, not just in concert with the X Games.A certain renegade element of local dirt bikers and all-terrain vehicles travels with self-granted impunity almost anywhere it feels like, particularly around the 30,000-acre Kobey Park-Sloan’s Peak area, causing, with dedicated consistency, irreparable trail erosion, not to mention noise pollution. According to White River National Forest regulations, motorized vehicles, including dirt bikes and ATVs, are restricted to roads designated as open to motorized vehicle traffic. This regulation is blatantly ignored by the above-mentioned backcountry enthusiasts. The incessant turning of the dirt bike wheels leaves no rest in the deep troughs they create in the trails, and soon these paths become so narrow and deep that horses, people and even dogs will have trouble walking in them. If they get too deep for the dirt bikes, their operators just move over and create new scars in the earth, soon to become too deep to travel as well, and the once unobtrusive trails become wide sores upon the earth. On any given day, one can follow motorized (and mountain bike) vehicle tracks into the Hunter-Frying Pan Wilderness Area, a region unquestionably closed to all motorized and mechanical vehicle traffic. These tracks go directly by the sign at the base of Mount Yeckel advising people that they are entering a designated wilderness area. A large herd of elk used to calve out in the Sloan’s Peak locale near Kobey Park until about 15 years ago, when the dirt bike traffic got particularly heavy. On a good day in May or early June, one could see maybe 150-200 head of elk in the area, but now it is unusual to see any. The most plausible explanation, in the absence of any other, is that the disturbance caused by dirt bike travel through their calving grounds has caused the elk to move on to other pastures. But let’s not come down only on the dirt bike and ATV violators. Mountain bikes, even though not motorized, do their fair share of environmental damage on unauthorized trails as well. As an example, last fall a couple of mountain bikers decided to come down the ridge immediately west of the Arbaney-Kittle trailhead in Basalt. Obviously undereducated and lacking in critical skills, these two yahoos hit the brakes on almost every turn and on all straightaways. This, of course, left large troughs in the dirt, just waiting for the next rainstorm to create the beginnings of deep erosion on a trail that has existed well over 100 years without being defiled by mechanized travel.You say these are only a few bad apples, the exception to the rule, these people who so obviously break the rules. When we’re speaking of the fragile mountain environment, about all it takes to bring the whole thing down is a few bad apples.As we walk through the motorized portion of the X Games venue and feel a rush of excitement in our chests and smell the gasoline and oil in the air, hear the roar of the engines, witness the tobacco juice staining the snow and hear spoken accents we’re not accustomed to hearing on the ski slopes, let us remind ourselves that such disturbances rub our souls a little in an unaccustomed way and wake us up to a wider world hidden from view to most of us. Tony Vagneur thinks education is better than enforcement, but doesn’t have much faith in it.
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The past sneaks up on us in the strangest of ways, and I don’t mean bounty hunters flashing those “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters in our faces.