Roads to nowhere
At the popular Berry Creek Shooting Range, just a mile from the upscale Singletree community, there1s a ratty old couch in the creek. Numerous beer cans, broken liquor bottles and pieces of trash litter the area.Nearby, a dead dog has been lovingly wrapped in a some sort of covering and left behind. Between his paws is a whiskey bottle.The road to the shooting range is heavily rutted. Fresh ruts, in fact, appear to have been made by off-road enthusiasts who couldn1t wait for the snow to melt and the mud to subside. Those ruts only deepen when more water runs down them. Blackened campfire rings spread out near the shooting range.By any measure, the place is trashed, and it1s not a situation isolated to Berry Creek or Singletree. It1s pretty much statewide, occurring wherever communities back up to lands managed for the public by the U.S. National Forest Service or the U.S Bureau of Land Management. With more than 80 percent of the land in Eagle County being federally managed, the problem is sizable. Land managers even have suggested closing some areas to motorized travel altogether.The situation at Berry Creek has galvanized Singletree homeowners into action, however. They1ve initiated a plan with the Forest Service to keep the trails and road access points clean and to limit the number of backyard access points. Those 3social trails often ascend the hills vertically and cause erosion that fouls local waterways. They1ve become so numerous that maintaining water quality in the Eagle River watershed has become an issue.3We want to establish trailheads for a more sustainable trail system, rather than the social trial system that there is now, says Holy Cross District Ranger Cal Wettstein.One of the two roads accessing Berry Creek will be closed, revegetated, Wettstein says, and the shooting range will be cleaned up. The homeowners have adopted the area, pledging to clean it up.Chuck Powers, a member of the Berry Creek Metro District Board of Directors, is a facilitator for a joint metro board, the Singletree Homeowner1s Association Trails Committee.He says the homeowners of the area have pledged to adopt the trails and roads and to help maintain and clean them.3It1s something that was generated by internal community concerns, Powers says. 3We wanted to increase the awareness of how badly that area (Berry Creek) has been treated.Powers says he expected the consolidations of trails, creating public access points and creating signage for access points to be completed within a couple of years. The cleanup if the shooting range, however, should happen this spring.The Berry Creek and June Creek roads also will have seasonal closures, Wettstein and Powers say, to prevent vehicles from damaging them when they are wet.Last year the Forest Service graded the Berry Creek road, says assistant District Ranger Dave Van Norman, but that work was undone this spring when someone drove on the muddy roads and damaged them. Next spring the road will be closed to vehicular travel from the end of hunting season until the roads are dry later in the spring, he says.Loving it too muchThe problem is not just an issue above Edwards. Pick just about any spot in Eagle County and the impacts of people using and abusing the landscape are plainly visible. That adds up to a water-quality problem as more and more people enjoy using the backcountry3All those social trails don1t look that impactful until you add up all the trails in the Vail Valley. That1s a lot of sediment, says Wettstein.Planners are hoping the backcountry trails someday will connect with the planned county-wide bicycle and recreation trail system, which is nearing completion, says Ellie Caryl of the Eco Trail Back Country Trails subcommittee.The Bureau of Land Management, meanwhile, has experienced similar impacts from people abusing the land, says Dorothy Morgan, outdoor recreation planner. She says the BLM will be moving toward imposing a vehicle management plan within five years.3We haven1t really managed vehicle use in this area. It1s kind of been neglected, she says. 3We have part of the responsibility to manage it. It1s not supposed to be a free-for-all.Morgan says the route designations for vehicles in the area have not been updated since 1984. Since then, the county population has nearly doubled.3It was never intended for this kind of use, Morgan says.Problem areasSome of the problem areas, Morgan says, are east of Eagle, where motorcyclists and off-road vehicles have scarred the hillsides heavily. The designated routes there were never enforced, she says. Another problem area, Morgan says, is Hardscrabble Mountain south of Eagle as well as roads in the Castle Peak area.Then there1s Spring Creek, south of the Eagle County airport, where motorcyclists are climbing hills and leaving vertical scars on vulnerable hillsides, she says. Signs prohibiting use of the area have been torn down or destroyed by guns, says Morgan.Mountain bikes have an impact, too, says Morgan, but they are less damaging than are motorized vehicles. Their impacts are more spread out<but they are impacts nonetheless.3We1re trying to get people to understand that just because an area is designated Oopen1 doesn1t mean you can build trails, says Morgan.Motorcycles create the heaviest impact, she adds, because they often repeat their path, creating more damage.3When people are out there riding, they represent everyone who takes part in that particular sport, she says. 3Motorized vehicle use on public lands across the country is under attack. We1re going to get a lot of pressure to close areas.Ranger Wettstein, meanwhile, says that as soon as the long-anticipated White River National Forest Plan is released, possibly this month, the land managers will begin examining how to form a transportation plan for the forest<which no doubt will include some road closures.