Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Tony Vagneur
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

The drumbeat of the Hidden Gems Wilderness campaign thunders on and comments from both sides continue to roll in. Personally, I’ve received a number of letters from people perplexed or peeved that I’ve failed to take into account “responsible” off-road vehicle (ORV) users, including dirt bikes.

If some of these users are in fact responsible, perhaps they should be given credence, but in my experience, it appears “responsible” and “motorized” should not be used in the same sentence. Egregious bad behavior by motorized off-road vehicle operators seems to have more and more become the norm, and I’ll tell you why in a moment.

But first, take note that the Hidden Gems proponents desire protections for land, water and wildlife; their opponents talk about little more than preserving off-road motorized and mechanical modes of transportation, based on ill-perceived entitlements. It’s not a conversation the Gems opponents carry on very well, for without much constructive argument on their side, the best they can hope for is to out shout those who would protect our natural environment.

In past columns, I’ve detailed the wanton disregard for Forest Service rules and common sense exhibited by ORVs (including dirt bike users), in the Sloan’s Peak-Kobey Park-Arbaney-Kittle area. In October 2009, a different wild area became of concern.

For approximately 10 years, I’ve been riding through Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land immediately adjacent to and south of West Sopris Creek Road, as part of my job as caretaker of family property contiguous to BLM and Forest Service lands. Never in that time have I witnessed or seen the tracks of motorized vehicles in that locale, the one exception being the cattle permit holder for the BLM area who infrequently uses an ORV to watch over his cows.

Last fall was a different story. The first BLM trail to the left as one travels up West Sopris Creek suddenly became a “highway” for ORV vehicles during the second rifle hunting season. According to the BLM, motorized access along this track (unnamed) is an allowed use and one cannot argue with that. The trail continues over the top of the ridge, near Sopris Mountain Ranch and eventually ends at the line of demarcation between BLM and White River National Forest land, at what is commonly referred to as the “Hell Hole Corral.”

Legal access for motorized vehicles stops at the Hell Hole Corral for clearly, the Forest Service does not allow any motorized access in this area. There are no mapped or commissioned Forest Service trails in the vicinity, not for motorized use or for anything else. None. Remember, it is the user’s obligation to know where motorized access is allowed.

Instead of stopping at the forest boundary, as “responsible” ORV riders would, the interlopers of this past hunting season continued onto off-limits Forest Service land, blatantly traveling up the division fence between the East and West Sopris Creek drainages and on toward Hay Park. In the space of four days, they created a veritable boulevard of ugly proportions, so dismal and destructive that it will take years, if ever, for the damage to repair itself without intervention.

Without doubt, this is clearly another example of “it’s our public land” use of motorized vehicles in the unending pummeling of pristine wild places, under the guise of “I can do what I want.” These folks were even too lazy to use a chain saw, zig-zagging wherever they could to avoid downed trees in their path, creating additional erosion.

If you don’t think round wheels traveling through the mountains, powered either by engines or sweat, have a major and injurious impact to the environment, you should take a course in remedial physics.

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