Clashing rules muddle Summit County trails proposal
Summit County, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado – Local efforts to create a motorized and multi-use trail system on Tenderfoot Mountain could be stymied by a morass of conflicting plans and regulations.
Federal and local jurisdictions are nowhere close to being on the same page when it comes to management of the area.
The Town of Dillon recently closed off one of the access points to the area in a unilateral move. In 1993, the county passed a resolution approving motorized use in the area, but in a recent update of the Snake River Master Plan, the same area was declared non-motorized, with an exception for hunting and camping access to Frey Gulch by full-size licensed vehicles. And the U.S. Forest Service recently changed its stance on the proposal. Instead of considering the trail system in the context of a forestwide trail plan, it recently announced that the White River National Forest supervisor will make a separate decision on the Tenderfoot proposal.
Residents of nearby neighborhoods who attended a county commissioner site visit to the area Tuesday expressed concerns about a lack of enforcement of existing regulations and voiced concerns over public safety, noise and resource damage to wetlands in the area.
The Summit County Off-Road Riders are developing a plan to update trails in the area by closing off some segments and adding others to complete loops. This summer, a consultant hired by the group will study the area to help create a plan that will try to address some those concerns.
Motorized use in the area has been established for decades – long before some of the neighborhoods were built, said assistant county manager Thad Noll, after a Corinthian Hills resident accused him of being pro-motorized use.
Noll said he hopes to reach some sort of resolution that would make everybody happy, a tall order given the hardened stance of opposition taken by some area residents.
About 40 people attended the work session, including county planners and staff. The trails proposal also extends to U.S. Forest Service lands, but the work session was aimed to educate commissioners and the public about the 465 acre landfill property, which includes the primary access point to the trails.
Some of the stumbling blocks to finding a consensus emerged during the hike. At the first stop, looking east toward the landfill, residents pointed to where a wide, muddy swath of a trail has been cut through a patch of lush wetlands.
The parcel was conveyed from the Forest Service to the county in 1993, when the county committed itself to being good stewards of the area. Initially, the wetlands were protected by berms and barriers. More recently, there has been no enforcement of the closures, and motorized users have been unable to police themselves.
“When we acquired the property in ’93, we agreed to protect the wetlands,” said county attorney Jeff Huntley. “We tried to shut the trails,” he said.
Along with damage to the wetlands, ATV riders and dirt bikers have created a spider web of renegade trails on Tenderfoot that have displaced an elk herd in the area, according to Colorado Division of Wildlife officials Shannon Schwab and Lyle Sidener.
The state wildlife biologists said a contained trail system with good management and enforcement could limit wildlife impacts, but added that enforcement is a huge challenge when it comes to motorized use.
County officials had no answer as to why enforcement has lagged, simply acknowledging that code enforcement in many areas has been a huge problem.
Most of the trails in the area were single-track for many years, but have recently been widened to accommodate ATVs.
“About five years ago, machinery was brought in here, unbeknownst to the county, and widened some of the trails,” said county open space director Brian Lorch.
Chuck Ginsburg, attending the tour as a representative of the off-road group, said he hopes that all the users and residents of the area can work together to develop a plan that resolves most of the issues. Education of users is crucial, and the group has said it will commit resources to building information kiosks at the trailhead and developing a corps of volunteers to reach out to users on the trails.
Ginsburg said the group will do sound studies this summer, measuring the volumes at seven or eight different points in the various nearby neighborhoods. The way he envisions the plan, the motorized users would head up from the trail head and disappear into the woods.
“People, given the opportunity, will be responsible,” said Ken Waugh, a recreation specialist with the Forest Service who has been working with the motorized group.
Other residents expressed concern about over-use of the area, citing the mantra of, if you build it, they will come.
“Once you establish use, it will over-populate,” said Joe Warner, a 20-year Summit County resident who was heading up the trail on his dirt bike as the site visit ended. “If you officially put in a trail, it will draw crowds,” Warner said.
The motorized group plans to meet with homeowner groups in the next few months to establish a dialogue. Meanwhile, residents of Corinthian Hills may contract with a well-connected Denver law firm to lobby against the trail plan at the highest levels in Washington, D.C.
Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.