Summit County targets local dirt biking
Summit County, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado – Motorized use at the county’s landfill property could end next month if the commissioners formally adopt a resolution to close down the trails and block access to the trailhead and parking area near the cemetery.
A draft version of the resolution was discussed this week at a work session and passed by the board on first reading. A public hearing and final vote on the resolution is set for Aug. 11.
The work session discussion reflected a determination on the part of at least two of the commissioners to proceed with the closure.
According to assistant county manager Thad Noll, it would cost between $25,000 and $50,000 to build the needed gates and fences and to start restoring some of the areas that have been damaged by decades of use, including a wetlands area that has been scarred by a crisscross of trails.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier. “It’s clear that this use is not compatible,” she said, explaining that increasing use of the area spurred a rising tide of concerns about safety and user conflicts, noise and resource impacts. “It just needed to be done.”
Stiegelmeier said the county hasn’t yet decided exactly where the money will come from. The cost will likely be distributed across several departments, potentially including the open space program, to spread the financial burden.
Stiegelmeier said some homeowner groups, including the Keystone Citizens League, have offered to help implement the closure with donations of materials and volunteer time.
The move to shut down the trails drew immediate criticism from the Summit County Off-Road Riders, a group of motorized users that has been developing a trails plan for national forest lands around to the landfill property. The area has been open to motorized use for decades, pre-dating much of the recent residential development in the area.
“Why would the taxpayers want to spend up to $75,000 when money is short,” said Kent McGrew, one of the off-roaders who has spent the past several months working on the trail proposal.
“You can list all the concerns … But the bottom line is, we’re disturbing some neighbors that have political clout. Why would you spend tax money to revegetate an area that we’re just going to put garbage in?” McGrew said.
McGrew said his group is using a state grant (funded via off-highway vehicle fees) to plan a trail system. Some of that funding could be used to achieve some of the same goals the commissioners are aiming for with the closure, McGrew said.
Noll said the motorized users plan to bring hundreds of supporters to the Aug. 11 hearing. At past meetings, nearby homeowners have turned out in force to advocate for restrictions on motorized use.
The closure would also affect nearby trails and roads on the national forest, according to Ken Waugh, the recreation staff officer for the U.S. Forest Service Dillon Ranger District. When the current trailhead is closed, people wishing to access Frey Gulch roads and trails will have to use a different access point, possibly parking along Frey Gulch Road, Waugh said.
The closure could be a headache for local law enforcement officials, according to Undersheriff Derek Woodman.
“We only have two officers working on backcountry enforcement … It’s going to be impossible to seal it off completely,” Woodman said.
The issue of motorized use in the area has been on the front burner since the off-road group last year landed a planning grant to work on a motorized trail system. The off-roaders and Forest Service rangers have said they can reduce noise and resource impacts, as well as user conflicts, with a well-designed trail system.
Residents in adjacent neighborhoods (Corinthian Hills, Summer Wood, Summit Cove) fear development of a formal trail system will increase use by local riders and new motorized users drawn to the area by the trail system. The county previously had supported the off-road group’s bid to at least do the planning for a trail system.
Once residents of the area got wind of the plan, they bombarded local officials with their concerns. The Snake River Planning Commission designated much of the area in question as non-motorized. Dillon acted independently by closing off access to the Oro Grande road from the trailhead near the town’s water tank.
A long-awaited Forest Service trail management plan is also part of the equation. The plan is due this summer and will determine which national forest trails are open to motorized use, including those at issue in the Tenderfoot area.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife has also expressed general concerns about impacts to an elk herd that uses Tenderfoot Mountain. State wildlife biologists have said that the proliferation of renegade backcountry trails has affected elk habitat to some degree. At the same time, the wildlife managers have acknowledged that a contained trail system, with good enforcement, could minimize the wildlife concerns.