Illegal motorized trails spreading
SUMMIT COUNTY ” Tenderfoot Mountain is the latest area to be hammered by unauthorized motorized use ” to the point that a resident elk herd is being displaced, according to Tom Kroening, of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
An extensive network of illegal, user-created trails has branched off the three authorized motorized trails in the greater Tenderfoot area, spreading like a spider web across National Forest lands as riders follow each other and widen the tracks.
At least some of the illegal use is originating on county land, from a designated dirt bike area near the county landfill, says Ken Waugh, recreation staff officer for the Forest Service’s Dillon Ranger District.
“It’s obviously affecting wildlife,” Waugh says, adding that it’s the responsibility of riders to know if they are in an area that’s legally open for motorized use. Maps and information are available at the Forest Service ranger station in Silverthorne.
The open motorized trails are Frey Gulch, Oro Grande and the Straight Creek road.
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The problem, according to Waugh and Kroening, is a handful of renegade riders who create new trails, often pioneered by dirt bikes. Other riders then follow those single-track paths, in some cases on ATVs. They end up widening the trails and violating Forest Service regulations unknowingly.
“They’ve gone into a lot of different areas up there … other users are coming behind and creating very distinct, in some cases very evolved trails,” Kroening says. “I’ve watched over the last five years and they are appearing in new places each year.”
Historically, a resident herd of elk has used the area extensively, including the south side of Tenderfoot Mountain in the winter, and the entire area around Tenderfoot Mountain from Keystone clear up to the Eisenhower Tunnel. In recent years, Kroening says he’s seen a dramatic drop in elk in these areas.
The elk are being pushed out of that historic range and into thicker timber in the Porcupine Gulch drainage and up to higher ground near tree line around the tunnel, Kroening says. That habitat is not as good and Kroening reckons it will harm the herd.
Not everyone agrees that dirt bikes and ATVs are the main problem. Some of the motorized users feel unfairly singled out, and point to other activities in the area that also impact wildlife.
One group of dirt bike riders, starting on a ride from the trailhead near the cemetery on a recent Saturday morning, said the Forest Service must find a way to accommodate the increased demand for motorized use. The foursome didn’t want to be identified by name, but they fingered hunters as the main culprits, using ATVs to carry their kills out of the forest.
“What about all the new subdivisions and the golf course?” says Summit Cove resident Steve Bergman. “Have they done scientific studies to show that motorized use displaces the elk? Or could it be something else? You’ve got to prove it if you say it’s detrimental, before you prohibit it.”