Vail Valley snowmobilers contest Hidden Gems claims | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley snowmobilers contest Hidden Gems claims

Sarah Mausolf
smausolf@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado

Vail Daily file photoLance Trujillo, of the Vail Valley-based Holy Cross Powder Hounds, says about 1,700 people registered snowmobiles in Eagle County last year

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Opponents of the Hidden Gems campaign say a recent press conference unfairly downplayed the Vail Valley’s snowmobiling and ATV communities.

“They took a shot at us and pulled some statistics,” said Lance Trujillo, president of local snowmobiling club Holy Cross Powder Hounds. “They tried to make us look insignificant and we’re not.”

Monday’s press conference had featured three outdoorsmen who expressed their support for preserving 400,000 acres in Eagle, Pitkin, Summit and Gunnison counties. Under the plan, motorized and mechanized uses would no longer be allowed on the land.

Hidden Gems spokesman Sloan Shoemaker had said only one percent of people who recreate in the White River National Forest listed snowmobiling as their primary activity in a 2007 U.S. Forest Service survey.

“We make up a bigger group than what they are making it sound like,” Trujillo countered.

He said about 1,700 people registered snowmobiles in Eagle County last year, adding people also travel from outside the county to local snowmobiling destinations. Shoemaker countered that the snowmobile registration figure doesn’t invalidate the Forest Service numbers.

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Gary Ratkowski, owner of Boyz Toyz and Sons ATV and snowmobile shop in Eagle, agrees the statistics at the press conference were misleading. Hidden Gems supporters argued that “quiet users” like hikers, kayakers, cross country skiers and snowshoers outnumber snowmobilers, mountain bikers, motorcycle riders and ATV enthusiasts by 4-1. They were referencing the Forest Service study.

Ratkowski dismissed those statistics, saying motorized and mechanized users are more common.

“I would have to say it’s a majority,” he said. “All they have to do is go up there and look on the weekends. You see very few people hiking. You see most of the people are on the pedal bikes, the fourwheelers, the dirt bikes.”

On the economy front, Shoemaker also rebutted claims that Hidden Gems would hurt local economy, saying there is only one snowmobiling and ATV shop in Eagle County. Ratkowski says other snowmobile and ATV stores in Glenwood Springs would be damaged as well.

“It’s going to kill our hunting industry,” he added. “If the hunters can’t come and get into these places, they’re going to come someplace else. Colorado’s going to lose that money.”

Shoemaker repeated that a proposed Forest Service management plan would close all but five miles of the ATV trails Hidden Gems would close.

On another note, Trujillo said he was wary of the claim that more than half a million acres of White River National Forest and Bureau of Land Management land would still be available for all forms of recreation if Hidden Gems passes.

“I don’t even know what land they’re talking about,” Trujillo said. “It’s another number and my experience with them is they use statistics in their favor.”

Trujillo said it’s hard to say whether the land is even fit for snowmobiling. And he thinks that if Hidden Gems passes, supporters of the campaign will continue pushing to expand wilderness lands.

Shoemaker disputed that, saying the current proposal is already testing the limits of how much wilderness land can get political support.

Staff writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.