Forest plan takes public input

Prelude to Rico-West Dolores plan

Who can do what on national forest trails from the West Fork to Lizard Head pass is being negotiated through a series of public meetings.

At the Dolores Community Center last Thursday, user groups were asked to supply research and articles on the values, conditions, and threats to their preferred forest activities.

Represented were hikers, mountain bikers, horse riders, hunters, ATV users, single-track motorcyclists, quiet users, ranchers, area towns and counties, the U.S. Forest Service, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The meetings are a prelude to a Travel Management Plan (TMP) for the Rico-West Dolores district.

A proposed action for a new recreation map will be presented by the Forest Service in September and will be followed by public meetings. Eventually a record of decision will create an updated travel map.

A six-page listing of articles and reports used by forest officials for the area was reviewed by the panel. Each representative had a chance to discuss their issues.

Tiff Rodriguez, representing horse users, wants better public education on which trails allow what, and how to handle meeting different user groups.

"People hide behind a tree, or get off the trail on the high side, things that spook horses," she said. "Come on out and say hello is a better approach. People need to know what to expect on a trail."

Rick Keck, representing ATV'ers, said what is missing from the research is an "Doctor of motorized use."

"We lost the most in the last 30 years," he said. "We're heartbroken when we ride to our favorite spot and see a closed sign."

Keck added that an social economist is needed to document the value of multiple use and public access.

Casey McClellan, representing motorcyclists, said historical use of trails needs to be respected.

"There is a long history of motorcycle riding on forest trails," he said. "A summary of the history of these trails would be helpful."

Dani Gregory advocates for improving trails so they are sustainable long-term.

"It means less fixing and easier long-term management," she said.

Realignment of some trails makes sense, "but that does not equate to making them easier. We seek out the more difficult trails."

Improved trail design plays a role in how fast mountain bikers ride. Gregory added that fast-traveling mountain bikers does not mean they are out of control.

"The elephant in the room is unauthorized trails, we don't condone that because it does not help our cause," she said.

So-called quiet users like hikers, cross-country skiers, and anglers are the most common in the forest, said hiker Bob Marion.

"Motorized users displace quiet users. It makes a trail single-use for motorized," he stated. "Studies show 65 percent of forest users want separation of motorized and non-motorized."

Marion said the TMP rules calls for minimizing damage to the forest, and should minimize conflicts between users.

Quiet users tend to align with hunters, who are frequently critical of motorized users of displacing game.

Hunter Mike Kern noted that a solution is considering seasonal closures for certain areas with big game habitat.

"Motorized noise makes a difference on the success of a hunt," Kern said. "It is especially important for muzzle-loaders and bow hunters."

More representation from outfitters is needed in the discussion, Marion said.

"They are major contributors to our economy and rely on quiet user areas," he said.

District Ranger Derek Padilla responded to claims that the county has jurisdiction over all forest roads, and that closing forest roads limits access for emergency services.

"The county assertion that we don't have jurisdiction over forest roads is a point of disagreement for us," Padilla said. "There is no prohibition to emergency services accessing a location (on the forest) in performance of their official duties."