Eagle puts some teeth in open space regulations | VailDaily.com

Eagle puts some teeth in open space regulations

Scott N. Miller
A motorcyclist comes down an illegally created road on the south edge of Eagle Ranch in an open-space area owned by the town of Eagle.

An ordinance passed by the Eagle Town Board late last month gives the town’s police and code enforcement officers the ability to seize equipment from willful violators of the town’s open space regulations.

Town board members agreed that violators of the new regulations will get one warning. A second offense will result in a ticket that could pack a fine of as much as $500. A third offense will result in criminal charges and the seizure of equipment, which can then be released only by the town’s judge.

No one wants that, of course, but the point is to prevent abuse of town-owned open space, officials says.

Town officials are optimistic that signs, maps and education can help direct people on the property.

“Mostly we’ve had good compliance now that it’s been signed out there,” said Bill Heicher, the town’s open space coordinator.

While the regulations allow seasonal closures of areas to activities as benign as hiking, the main purpose is to limit and direct use by mechanized and motorized users. Those users will be restricted to specifically designated areas of the more than 300 acres of town open space, most of which buffers the Eagle Ranch subdivision and Bureau of Land Management property.

When Eagle Ranch was a working agricultural property, public access was virtually nonexistent. In the few years since the subdivision was approved and streets were constructed, many residents have used the property as a way to access federal lands.

That access still exists, but at just a few points. Heicher said motorized users can get to federal lands through the Hardscrabble area, as well as via a couple of points up Spring Creek and near the Eagle County Regional Airport. The problem, Heicher noted, is that many residents have become accustomed to zipping through town on dirt bikes to get to their favorite trails.

For those who question the move, Town Board member Stephen Richards used the example of the damage done to the Bureau of Land Management-owned hills just to the east of Eagle.

“As we’ve seen there, those areas are pretty easy to tear up, and it takes a long time to get it back to where it was,” Richards said.

Heicher said public information efforts are working fairly well, with some vocal exceptions. “I’ve talked with a couple of people who said, “I’m not going to stop,'” he said. “Most people accept it, or understand it. Some people don’t like it.”

While signs and maps will direct hikers, bikers and motorized users to specific areas, those maps aren’t set in stone.

“It’s important to all of us to be able to use the land we’ve acquired,” said Richards. “It’s going to be an ongoing process regarding which areas will be closed and opened.”

And, said Heicher, when the Bureau of Land Management develops a travel management plan for its property adjacent to Eagle, the town will further investigate motorized-access issues.

In the meantime, Richards said he wants to know what people think. “From the perspective of someone who uses it, I’d be miffed if my favorite areas were closed,” he said. “We’d like to have input from the public on this.”

Residents with questions about restrictions and regulations on the town’s open space can call Heicher, 328-9654.

This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.

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