Local routes to be legalized, decommissioned | VailDaily.com

Local routes to be legalized, decommissioned

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – So the White River National Forest has released its Travel Management Plan Record of Decision, but what exactly does that really mean for you here in Eagle County?

The Travel Management Plan, which has been in the works for about seven years, is a massive document that outlines the way we travel through our local forest. It identifies impacts on the forest from its so-called transportation system, including which routes or trails should stay and which ones should go.

The document, released on Wednesday, covers more than 2.5 million acres of public lands in nine counties, the majority of which are in Eagle, Garfield, Pitkin and Summit counties.

In Eagle County, the plan calls for the decommissioning of 275 miles of routes, with summer motorized users likely to notice most of the changes. Many routes that have developed over time because of repeated use aren’t part of the planned system of travel within the forest and are now identified for decommissioning.

The Travel Management Plan Record of Decision entered a 45-day appeal process Wednesday, meaning the Forest Service can’t start implementing any of the changes until that process is over and any appeals are addressed. Don Dressler, the snow ranger with the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District, calls this period a “holding pattern” because the Forest Service isn’t sure what will be implemented in 2011 versus 2012 because of appeals.

Should implementation include everything in the Travel Management Plan now, Eagle County public-lands users will notice everything from newly legalized routes to existing routes that are being decommissioned, or made illegal, because they do not fit in with the overall forest plan.

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Dave Neely, the district ranger with the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District, said there are routes that have been on the ground for many years throughout the Eagle County portion of the White River National Forest, but they’re not necessarily part of a planned, maintained forest system.

“We’re finally going to get around to cleaning some of those routes up,” Neely said.

Many of the routes are simply roads that were built by miners or just built before the Forest Service was in existence. The question that was asked hundreds of times during the Travel Management Plan process was whether or not those roads and routes belong within the system.

“It’s all very specific, case by case,” Neely said.

The Forest Service wants the forest to have good mountain-biking spots, hiking trails, off-road vehicles trails, snowmobile terrain and quiet places where people can walk and get away from some of those other uses.

“What we’re looking at is a balanced, well-managed road and trail system that allows for a mix of uses,” Neely said.

After seven years of planning and countless meetings, many of which gathered public input, the plan is almost 100 percent complete. Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams calls it one of the most important resource decisions a forest supervisor makes, having an impact on everything the Forest Service does.

And while seven years of work went into it, the plan isn’t perfect.

“In the end, someone has to make a decision; otherwise, we’d never move in any direction. We always recognize that for every decision we make, there are tradeoffs,” Neely said. “Somebody’s not going to like it, and they have a course of action available to challenge us. In the end, when a decision is made, we hope people can appreciate the rationale behind it.”

Locally, the dialogue among the various user groups is just getting started. Motorized and mechanized recreation groups, as well as wilderness proponents, have said they’re still looking over the large document.

“People are still digesting it,” Neely said. “It’s a lot of really complex information.”

National forests are open to foot travel just about everywhere, but other uses are restricted to designated trails and routes. Eagle County users can view which routes are being changed at http://www.fs.usda.gov/

whiteriver, under “Travel Management Plan.”

Once local routes are officially decommissioned, which could begin as early as late summer, the Forest Service will distribute motor-vehicle use maps which show users where they can and can’t go. The Forest Service also will put up many signs at the various access points throughout the forest but likely won’t hit every single area with new signs.

“The legal tool is the motor-vehicle use map,” Neely said.

One area that has been identified for several decommissioned roads is in the Camp Hale area – roads that people have used for years, including local off-road vehicle tour and rental operators. Neely said the Travel Plan has identified that area as a potential place for an OHV (off-road vehicle) ranger program, similar to what’s done at the Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area and the river ranger program at Glenwood Canyon.

“Instead of saying we’ll close and decommission these routes, we can partner to put a physical presence on the ground there to help monitor, maintain and enforce the law,” Neely said. “It’s a model that has a lot of potential. … We can concentrate use where it makes sense to concentrate it and provide that balance.”

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or