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Some White River trails off-limits to snowmobiles

Jane Stebbins/Special to the Daily

SUMMIT COUNTY – A steep trail on Vail Pass will be closed to motorized use this winter due to a policy change in the White River National Forest Plan.

The trail, a connector route between Vail and Searle passes is located less than a half-mile above Janet’s Cabin at the head of Wilder Gulch and is primarily used by expert snowmobilers, said Dave VanNorman, assistant district ranger of the Holy Cross district that manages that area.

“It’s not one of the more popular trails up there because of the difficulty,” he said. “It’s a very steep trail to get into, and very difficult to get out of.”



VanNorman said, however, that snowmobile club members in Eagle County are opposed to the closure, saying more people use the trail than the Forest Service believes.

Based on fee-demo permits purchased for use in the area, an average of 18,000 people recreate in the area each winter. VanNorman said Forest Service officials believe half of the use is people on snowmobiles and the rest is non-motorized, such as Nordic skiing.



The change is the only one in Summit County that was the result of “prescription” or zoning changes in the Forest Plan. “Prescriptions” address general uses on larger chunks of land, as opposed to individual trails that are analyzed in the agency’s “Travel Management Plan.”

Forest Service officials are working on a draft of the Travel Management Plan, which will be available for public perusal and comment early next summer, said Ken Waugh, Dillon District recreation officer.

Ultimately, the plan will outline what’s allowed on which trails.



“We want to give people the chance to get out in the field and look at what we’re proposing,” he said. “The issue that will drive potential restrictions will be the Canada lynx. There might be some areas where we get a lot of conflicts and we have to separate the uses. Our job is to provide balanced opportunities.”

Many users said they wanted the Forest Service to provide separate areas for different uses – particularly cross country skiing and snowmobiling. Those two groups have a long history of conflict.

Recreationalists also recognized that there will be places where activities must overlap.

For this season, anyway, there will be no other trail closures in Summit County for motorized vehicles.

But snowmobilers will see many changes this season in other parts of the White River National Forest, notably in Eagle and Pitkin counties.

New prescriptions under the Forest Plan mean there will be closures near the Thomas Lakes area near Mount Sopris and areas recommended under the plan to be designated as wilderness areas, said Mike Kenealy, forestry technician with the Sopris Ranger District in Carbondale.

The recommended wilderness designation encompasses Red Table Mountain north of Ruedi Reservoir and Assignation Ridge west of Highway 133 near Redstone. Most of the Red Table Mountain lands that have seen snowmobile use in the past, accessed off Cottonwood Pass in Eagle County, remain open to the machines, Kenealy said.

But several other, smaller areas have also been recognized as recommended wilderness and are now closed to motorized uses.

“Most of the smaller areas never saw much snowmobile use anyway,” Kenealy said. “That’s one of the reasons they’re being recommended as wilderness.”

Motorized travel also is prohibited within the boundaries of any ski area or resort on national forest lands, except when authorized by a special-use permit or in emergencies.

Forest Service personnel are creating a map that will show the new closures.


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