Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

They’ve been rolling in lately, letters announcing a call to arms in the fight to prevent additional public lands from being designated “wilderness,” as detailed by the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign. It’s unclear what kind of response these groups are getting, but the temperature is rising.

Last week, I wrote a letter to the editor touching on such issues, and found people ringing my phone and darkening my door, asking about my beliefs in regard to the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign. People don’t come around like that, not even when I write about women and steamy sex.

For approximately the past 10 years, I have been a United States Forest Service volunteer with the Aspen office of the White River National Forest, working mostly the Sloan’s Peak-Kobey Park area. My duties have partially been to educate the public about the rules and regulations regarding travel in that particular area.

Simply put, the Sloan’s Peak-Kobey Park area is a nightmare representation of what motorized and mechanical travel can do to the environment. Except for roads clearly designated “motorized,” this entire area has been closed to motorized access since 1992, but even a cursory glance confirms that illegal usage of existing and “bandit” trails has been, and continues to be, rampant.

1993 saw the last of the cattle grazing permits in the area and the old cattle trails have grown over and disappeared. That is, all but the ones being raped and pillaged by dirt and mountain bikes. In steeper areas, the ruts sometime get 1- to 2-feet deep, ground down by the incessant turning of round wheels against the earth and then washed out by every rivulet of runoff that comes along. Hikers and horses find such trails unusable.

There is a large network of illegal mountain and dirt bike trails in the entire region, but they are more pronounced in the Kobey Park area. The dirt bike trails are easy to find – just follow the ruts, or the noise. The mountain bikers, slower and closer to the ground, I reckon, take the time, without apparent purpose, to mark unlawful trails, so well-worn that even a blind man could follow them, with stone cairns every hundred feet or so.

During the rifle hunting seasons, Kobey Park can sometimes look like an anthill, what with all of the all-terrain vehicles ripping around in areas clearly closed to such activities.

Each year the trail erosion becomes worse, and the number of illegal users increases. A misinformed sense of arrogant entitlement increases, also. For the last 10 years, I’ve been stopping errant dirt bikers, telling them what areas are restricted to non-motorized travel. I’ve been spit on, cursed, threatened, and run over, but such infantile tactics don’t change reality. Their responding attitude has been a resounding, “f–k you.” Clearly, education doesn’t work.

I’ve heard the specious argument that a few bad apples shouldn’t ruin the pie. In the wild, it only takes a few to ruin the environment for generations to come.

Some people are exceptions, of course, but tragically and for the most part, that’s how it is in the Sloan’s Peak-Kobey Park neck of the woods. If all motorized and mechanized users are like the ones in that area, it’s obvious they shouldn’t be allowed anywhere in the national forest.

If you like a quiet walk in solitude, enjoy unpolluted views of pristine landscapes, and appreciate what a feeling of “wildness” can be, stand up and be counted. Talk to those who wish to protect our cherished lands from the degradation created by mechanization and motorization.

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