Saturday, January 24, 2004
Winter use of public lands in Routt County has been increasing steadily for the past 10 years. Unfortunately, the National Forest Service, designed to manage forests and not people, was not ready for the onslaught.
During the past six years, there have been user groups, concerned agencies and residents involved on task forces who have been working with state parks and the Forest Service to address areas of concern associated with increased numbers of users. Through this process, a conceptual plan was drafted. It is open to public comment.
The concept of thoughtfully commenting on winter travel management is a great one. Do we dare look into the future to consider "capacity"? Shall we begin to define what quality recreation is? When do we attempt to channel the traffic elsewhere to parking areas beyond densely populated areas? How do we manage these areas and enforce regulations? How do we pay for this? Should we explore other states and learn how they have worked with these problems?
I think we have a great opportunity to look at the impact of increased use of our public lands in a positive light. Despite the impact of snowmobile use, we also have a world-class opportunity for Nordic users, backcountry users and snowshoers.
For safety's sake and the requirements of nonmotorized users, separation of use is extremely important to preserve our world-class recreational opportunities. Parking placement and other parking issues need to be considered. Residential areas and quiet zones all need to be weighed.
Areas that are used by guest ranches for backcountry tours, areas that are easily accessible from parking lots and trails allowing snowmobilers access are issues that need to be studied and commented on. Now is our opportunity as a community to ensure a wonderful place for all to recreate.
The forest is open to motorized recreation -- except the wilderness areas and the buffer around the ski resort. This does not provide balanced access and opportunity for all users.
These processes should be started with a clean slate, and user groups should have to go through the process of asking for appropriate areas for their respective uses. This way, parking issues can be resolved before they become a problem, with the cooperation of the sheriff's department and county planners.
There are meetings this week for those who have questions. All meetings are from 3 to 6 p.m. and include Monday at Olympian Hall; Tuesday at Steamboat Lake; Thursday at Yampa Town Hall; and Feb. 3 at the Parks Ranger District in Walden. Offer thoughts and suggestions. Get involved.
Comments are due Feb. 9.
To help forest users draft their comments, The Friends of the Routt Backcountry are presenting their vision and a letter writing session from 4 to 7 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Community Center.