Forest Service improves snowmobile access

ATVs and snowmobiles will get improved trail access and a new parking lot in the Transfer Park area of the La Plata mountains.

Forest Service crews are committed to building a trailer-friendly parking lot at the southern trailhead of the Doc Lowell connector trail that leads to the West Mancos ATV trail and others.

The new parking area will be located next to existing corrals off Forest Road 561, two miles south of the Transfer Campground in the San Juan National Forest.

"The Doc Lowell trail is a project we have been working on to improve access to the ATV trail network and keep ATVs off of the section of FR 561 between the forest boundary and Transfer," said district ranger Derek Padilla.

The short, forest-portion of the road leading to Transfer is considered hazardous due to narrowness, washboarding, curves and full-size vehicle traffic, many with trailers. ATV's have been utilizing that section of road to access trailheads, adding to the hazard.

"We've had some near misses there," said forest recreation planner Tom Rice. "ATV use is actually prohibited on the forest road up to Transfer Park for safety concerns."

However, ATV use is allowed on Forest Road 561 beyond Transfer campground.

A new winter gate on the road will also be installed just past the new Doc Lowell trail parking lot, but it works to improve access, especially for snowmobilers, officials explained.

During low snowpack winters, the snow line is beyond the current winter closure gate located at the forest boundary. Snowmobilers are parking at the lower gate, and then are having to drive their sleds over dirt to get to the snow.

The new gate will be further up the road, allowing snowmobilers to trailer their sleds and unload at the trailhead where the snow is more consistent, Padilla said.

The intermediate gate will still prevent regular vehicles from attempting to drive up the impassable FR 561 during the winter season.

"Basically we will be able to better manage winter access with an intermediate gate and parking lot," Padilla said.

A portion of the funding for the project comes from the Secure Rural Schools program, a federal appropriation that compensates for loss of logging revenues in national forests. Secure rural schools will pay for $36,000 of the $112,000 total price tag.

Officials are hoping to install the new parking lot and intermediate gate this summer or fall, if weather and scheduling permit it.