EAGLE COUNTY — It’s again legal to ride all-terrain vehicles on parts of the White River National Forest.
The U.S. Forest Service in 2011 finalized a controversial “travel management plan” for the White River, which is more than 2.3 million acres in size. That plan ended up closing many trails and roads to motorized use. Another element of the plan closed existing roads to all-terrain vehicles, while leaving those roads open to vehicles licensed for road use.
What that meant was people who put their four-wheelers on trailers and hauled them to Sylvan Lake State Park or other spots couldn’t legally use their motorized toys on roads they’d just driven. Roads around Berry Creek, Muddy Pass, June Creek and Red and White Mountain were subject to similar restrictions.
TWEAKING THE 2011 PLAN
Complaints from motorized users after the plan was put into force led U.S. Forest Service officials to rethink at least some of the plan. That, in turn, led to a recent decision by Forest Service officials to authorize all-terrain vehicle use on 143 miles of roads that had previously been open only to road-legal vehicles.
“We heard so much concern about it,” Eagle and Holy Cross District Ranger Dave Neely said. “We took a hard look (at the plan) and listened to feedback. We looked at it and wondered if there were changes we could make.”
Neely said it’s rare for the Forest Service to revisit a plan so soon after it’s finalized — the original travel management plan was several years in the making.
“I think we got this right,” Neely said, adding that the plan revisions had to go through the Forest Service’s usual public comment process and did so without any objections.
The process of opening the plan up for revisions involved a lot of talking and listening, Neely said.
While the 2011 plan has evolved, it still marks a significant change from the way the Forest Service used to operate. Paula Peterson, of the Eagle and Holy Cross District recreation staff, said perhaps the biggest change is that now roads and trails are closed unless they’re designated as open. Peterson said signs are still being installed, but should be up soon.
USE A MAP
The best way to learn what roads and trails are open is to use the Forest Service’s updated map. Those maps are now available on the White River National Forest website, but it will be some time before paper copies are available.
Knowing the territory is going to be important, Peterson said. For one thing, there are seasonal closures in some areas. Even in open areas, it’s up to the user to know where he or she is.
Eagle-area resident Derrick Wiemer said the changes to the plan are welcome. But, he said, the 2011 plan in his view still places undue restrictions on motorized use in the forest.
The revised use regulations give back something that was taken away, Wiemer said. But rule that closes roads unless they’re specifically opened has taken “thousands” of trails away from motorized use. None of those trails have been re-opened, he said. Only roads are open to all-terrain vehicles.
And while road and trail signs are still a work in progress, Wiemer said the signs that are up now are “less than straightforward.”
Still, the ability to ride vehicles that aren’t licensed on Forest Service roads is no small thing. Youngsters often ride all-terrain vehicles, and those kids can again ride on Forest Service roads.
ECONOMIC BENEFIT OF ATVS
And, Wiemer said, there will be a positive economic benefit to the valley because people can haul their all-terrain vehicles to places like Sylvan Lake when coming for a camping weekend. Wiemer claimed that park visitors last year were told to simply leave their toys on their trailers.
If those people can’t ride, they won’t come back and won’t buy groceries, gas or the occasional restaurant meal in the valley when they come, Wiemer said.
“This will have a positive economic impact,” he said.
“We heard so much concern about it. We took a hard look (at the plan) and listened to feedback. We looked at it and wondered if there were changes we could make.”
Eagle and Holy Cross District Ranger