Roads conflict hits thorny point
They’ve laced some roads and trails on the popular recreation area on the shoulders of Red and White Mountain, with caltrops – metal spikes designed to puncture tires.
The caltrops were found by a hunter last week and delivered to the U.S. Forest Service office in MInturn. Caltrops were reportedly first used by Roman armies to disable foot soldiers and horses in armed conflicts.
Red and White Mountain is a popular area for hiking, hunting, mountain biking and motorized vehicles that is getting overrun from all the traffic.
The discovery of the spiked devices is a symptom of the frustration that multiple and often conflicting recreational users encounter as wildland use increases. For instance, a hiker out to enjoy the solitude of the mountains might not appreciate a roaring off-road vehicle driving through the area he’s trying to enjoy.
A search by Forest Service personnel for more of the devices came up empty.
“In the last four or five years the abuse of the area, has just gotten ridiculous,” said 10-year Wildridge resident Pete Brill, 45, a biker, hiker and camper who regularly uses the mountain’s roads and trails.
“Every year 4-wheelers make new roads and unfortunately, it seems to get worse around hunting season,” Brill said. “It’s now a maze of roads. People are blazing roads through pristine meadows.”
It’s not the first time someone has strewn roads with spiked devices. Brill has seen roofing nails scattered along Wildridge Road near the intersection with June Creek Road. Wildridge Road in rutted places has been widened by vehicles avoiding the ruts to where it can accommodate four vehicles abreast, he said. Both roads are recognized Forest Service access to Red and White Mountain.
“The problems really is the people who abuse it,” he said. “It’s saddening.”
The Forest Service acknowledges one of the major problems is illegal, off-road vehicle use, but said it doesn’t have the resources to enforce it. Vehicle use is restricted to designated Forest Service roads only. There is no off-road vehicle use allowed on the White River National Forest.
“I’m frustrated,” said Holy Cross District Ranger Cal Wettstein after visiting Red and White Mountain. “New trails are being punched into the area continuously. We’re fighting against a multi-million dollar advertising campaign from the all-terrain vehicle industry. Without the motorized community’s cooperation, it’s going to be quite a battle.”
Part of the problem, Wettstein said, is the marketing for off-road vehicles.
“You see (advertising) between innings of the World Series,” he said. “When people pay $3,000 to $5,000 for a machine that can go anywhere, they’re going to take it anywhere.”
The Forest Service will be adding more law enforcement officers to its ranks, who will be able to ticket drivers of vehicles found off-road, he said.
Overrun and run over
Wettstein said markers put up by the Forest Service on illegal roads prohibiting their use have been shot, run over or pulled up and thrown aside. On some illegal roads, the Forest Service fells trees to stop vehicles from using them, but in many instances the trees have been removed by people determined to use the roads.
Red and White Mountain has been particularly hard-hit by vehicle use because it is close to several towns and is accessed by Forest Service roads from the east, west and south.
The illegal roads and trails, which often climb straight up slopes, create channels that cause erosion, and that leads to water quality problems, Wettstein said.
“The Monkeywrench Gang’
The conflict between cross-country skiers and snowmobilers on Vail Pass escalated by the mid 1990s to the point where the Forest Service designated the south and west side of the pass for snowmobiles and the opposite side for non-powered recreation only.
The use of caltrops was outlined by eco-warrior and author Edward Abbey in his 1975 book, “The Monkeywrench Gang,” a fictional ragtag group opposed to motorized and commercial use of wild places.
The last regular instances of “Monkeywrenching” or sabotaging logging and mining equipment on the White River National Forest happened nearly a decade ago, said Rich Doak, forest recreation program manager.
“It’s not as common as it was,” he said. “The only case we’ve had recently occurred on the Reudi Trail (east of Basalt) eight or more years ago.
In that incident, someone buried wheel-puncturing spikes on the trail.”
Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy said he hadn’t fielded any reports of vehicles being damaged by the spikes.
The vehicle use and abuse isn’t just occurring here, it’s widespread, said Glenda Wilson, a Forest Service regional engineer in an earlier interview. She said more and more people are being raised in an urban environment in which the concept of the damage caused by of recreation is foreign.
“Off-road vehicle use has been a problem for a number of years,” she said. “If you were raised in a city with asphalt and concrete, you have a different appreciation of how you treat nature so it will be the same on the second visit as it was on the first.”
Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or firstname.lastname@example.org