EAGLE — The U.S. Forest Service has opened a 30-day comment period regarding proposed changes to recently enacted restrictions on off-highway vehicles, and the town of Eagle will have something to say.
Specifically, the town plans to support a proposal to revert back to previous local off-highway vehicles rules.
David Neely, Forest Service district ranger for the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District, addressed the town board Tuesday night to explain the local off-highway vehicles controversy.
Neely said a travel management plan for the White River National Forest was implemented in the spring of 2011 that “identified multiple road segments that allow access for licensed vehicles only. Strong input from individuals, organizations, municipalities and businesses indicate that this aspect of the 2011 decision is overly restrictive.”
In response, Eagle/White River Ranger District has proposed an official update to the plan that would “improve and expand the opportunity for motorized recreation on system roads already designated for motorized use and to sustain economic benefits to local communities from recreational visitation.”
The update would change the designation of approximately 133 miles of area Forest Service roads from “licensed vehicles only” to “all motorized vehicles.” Additionally, about 10 miles of road designated for “special use permit only” would change to “all motorized vehicles.”
In large part, the update reverts off-highway vehicles rules back to what they were prior to the new travel management plan.
“It’s moving a decision that went too far in one direction back to common sense ground,” Neely said.
He noted that the comment period for the revision ends July 30. After that point the Forest Service will issue the revised rules and a 45-day objection period begins. Neely noted it simply takes time for the federal agency to work through its official duties, but argued following the official process is the best way to “get everyone to where they need to be.”
“I know our processes are complicated,” Neely said. “I certainly want to be available for any questions people have to clarify the issues.”
A group of off-road motorists attended Tuesday’s meeting to voice support for the rule revision and to lobby the Eagle Town Board for support.
“We feel good about the planned adjustments,” said Derrick Weimer, president of the ECO Riders. Weimer said his group was formed “to promote responsible use of off-highway vehicles and to assist with maintaining the existing trail systems throughout Eagle County.”
Weimer said the rule revision is particularly important for communities such as Eagle, which sees a high influx of hunters during the fall. He noted that out-of-state hunters often bring in ATVs that they use daily to disperse from their campsites. Annie Colby, owner of the Nearly Everything Store in Eagle, echoed that sentiment.
“They are all expecting to go where they have always gone,” she said, noting the 2011 plan restricted OHVs from many nearby forest roads and that hunting season is a large economic boon for the area. To illustrate, she said there are 610 hunting license outlets in Colorado and of that number, the Nearly Everything Store ranks 26th statewide in license sales volume.
“We can’t turn our backs on that money,” said Colby.
“It is really critical that you stand behind reopening the roads that have been closed up there,” said resident Mitch Hayne.
In response to both Neely’s representation and testimony from several off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, the town board pledged a letter of support would be submitted before the comment period deadline.
“We have been supportive of this for the last couple of years,” said town board member Scott Turnipseed.
He noted a 2011 letter from the town that objected to the then-proposed off-highway vehicle restrictions noting the plan lacked “rational and common sense.”
“The reason we are here is because we are thankful the town of Eagle is pushing for the reopening of those trails,” said Weimer.