The biggest challenge in updating the White River National Forest (WRNF) draft travel plan is not ski area development or managing oil and gas extraction. “We have set procedures for that,” said Maribeth Gustafson, forest supervisor of the WRNF in Glenwood Springs on Thursday.
One of the four top threats is actually unmanaged recreation that can leave scars on the land and cause ecological damage to sensitive areas, vegetation and soils.“The assortment of recreation users have very appropriate reasons to play in forest service land, however, they are not an ‘organized’ group that can be held accountable for their actions,” Gustafson said.
The draft travel plan was released on Thursday and it’s purpose is to relieve conflicts between hikers, ATV riders, four-wheel drivers and horseback riders. The Forest Service has developed new regulations for designating roads, trails and areas for motor vehicle use. “When you have an unlicensed driver of an unlicensed ATV on the same road as Jeeps and logging trucks, you have to consider safety as part of the travel plan,” WRNF planner, Wendy Haskins pointed out. “The proposed travel plan is targeting the best routes for the best purposes, taking into account safety and user mix,” Haskins added.
The WRNF has been studying over 4,000 miles of trails and roads for their updated travel plan that has been four years in the making. There are several alternatives proposed that would increase the mileage closer to 5,000 miles, a concern to environmentalists.
“There are 1900 miles of road, 2400 miles of trails and 1,000 miles of unauthorized, or “bandit” routes,” Gustafson stated. “We want to hear public feedback in the next 90 days about our different proposals to keep some of these open and to close others.” There could be an increase of ATV, motorcycle, mountain bike and pack trails while decreasing the mileage on vehicle traffic. The final plan will be released early next year.
Gustafson noted that authorizing some of the bandit trails made sense. “It’s not that we’re trying to reward bad behavior, but it doesn’t help us to go against human nature either,” she observed.
The travel plan as a whole has not been updated since 1984. Public use in the forest area doubled from 1992 and 2002, mostly from an increase of skiers. The WRNF is the top recreated area in the nation when accounting for skier numbers (Vail, Aspen, and Summit County ski areas are in its boundaries) and ranked eighth in the nation if skier numbers are taken out.
Comments must be made in the next 90 days and can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org; mailed to WRNF Travel Management Plan and DEIS, c/o Content Analysis Group, P.O. Box 2000, Bountiful, UT 84011-2000; faxed to 801-397-2601 or delivered to local White River National Forest offices.