Recreation plans to be shown off

Routt National Forest, Routt County and Steamboat Lake State Parks have five winter recreation action plans for each of two areas, drafted with comments from more than 600 letters and more than 250 people at meetings.

Those action plans, which include four for the Buffalo Pass and Rabbit Ears Pass area, four for the North Routt area, and a "no-action" alternative plan for each area, will be presented to the public this week through open house meetings.

"What we want to do is to let the public take a look at how we used their input," said Diann Ritschard, spokeswoman for the Routt National Forest.

"We want them to be able to look at the maps and say, 'Yes, you addressed my comment by expanding a parking lot here or maybe making a certain area motorized or a certain area nonmotorized.'"

The public meetings are a courtesy to the public, Ritschard said, and not something the U.S. Forest Service requires through its planning process.

The alternatives for winter recreation management come after multiple public meetings earlier this winter. With increasing winter recreation use in the area, the need for managing the use has increased greatly, U.S. Forest Service officials have said.

The public meetings and information gathering has been a joint effort by the county, state parks and the U.S. Forest Service. With the information, Routt County hopes to update the winter recreation portion of its Upper Elk River Valley Community Plan.

Officials have said the cooperative effort is beneficial to all entities as it lets them share the work of getting public comment.

The alternative plans presented this week will not be "dramatically" different, Ritschard said.

Some alternatives have more areas designated for nonmotorized uses than others, or split the nonmotorized and motorized uses in different ways, she said.

All the alternatives, except the "do nothing" ones, suggest some official separation of uses, which is a response to comments that uses should be separated to some extent.

"That's what (the public) want. They feel like there are conflicts, and that's the way to alleviate some of the conflicts," Ritschard said. "We do have lots of National Forest, so there's a lot of area available to everyone.

"We're not proposing anything drastic, and I don't think the public is looking for anything drastic either," she said.

Ritschard emphasized that the alternatives are not final, but that they are open to the public so people have a chance to see how input was used and decide if the plans are on the right track.

Next, specialists will analyze the alternatives and decide what impacts each has. This summer, a draft environmental assessment will be issued and opened for public comment, and the U.S. Forest Service will choose an alternative by the fall.

The goal, Ritschard said, is to have a plan in place for the 2004 to 2005 winter season.

"We're on a fast track," she said.

Alternative plans and maps will not be available until the public meetings this week.

Meetings will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Routt County Commissioners Hearing Room in Steamboat Springs; from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Forest Service Office in Walden on Wednesday; and from 3 to 6 p.m. at Steamboat Lake State Park in North Routt on Thursday.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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