Snowmobilers ticketed for riding in Flat Tops
November 18, 2013
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Tempting early season snow in the Flat Tops apparently resulted in some snowmobilers being ticketed recently for accessing U.S. Forest lands before the official changeover date between summer and winter use on forest roads.
A stipulation that snow machines are not allowed in certain areas of the White River National Forest until Nov. 23 is contained in the recently approved new forest travel management plan, which went into effect last year.
However, some snowmobilers may not be aware of that rule and are finding out the hard way when they receive a citation for hopping on their sleds and riding into restricted areas too soon, said Greg Noss of the local High Country 4-Wheelers club.
Noss said he heard second-hand about tickets being issued to snowmobilers recently at forest access points on the Coffee Pot Springs and Buford roads heading into the Flat Tops.
“In general, Nov. 23 is the start of the over-the-snow vehicle season,” the release said. “Snowmobilers are asked to refrain from riding until these dates.”
"Most of us were worried about the summer restrictions when we were making our comments [on the plan], and this one kind of got overlooked," Noss admitted.
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"Last year, the snow came a lot later so nobody got any kind of jump on the snowmobile season and it wasn't an issue," he said.
This year is different, with snow depths reaching more than two feet in parts of the high country, including some areas of the Flat Tops, by late October and early November.
"Unfortunately, a lot of the public is not yet aware of [the use restriction]," Noss said.
Kyle Grambley, recreation specialist for the Rifle Ranger District of the White River Forest, said she was aware of tickets being issued by forest law enforcement officers for winter use violations. She did not know of specific locations or how many tickets were handed out, though.
"From what I was told, there was significant resource damage involved," she said.
The WRNF did issue a reminder of the summer/winter motorized use rules in a Nov. 5 press release, explaining that "over the snow" vehicles are prohibited in most areas of the forest until Nov. 23.
One exception is the Vail Pass area, where snowmobile access is allowed starting Nov. 15 under the new forest travel management plan.
The rules are in place "in order to protect underlying vegetation and to provide for visitor safety," according to the press release.
"In general, Nov. 23 is the start of the over-the-snow vehicle season," the release said. "Snowmobilers are asked to refrain from riding until these dates."
The temptation to get out and enjoy some early-season snow is understandable. The U.S. Geological Survey measured snow depths close to two feet in the Bison and Heart Lake areas after an early-season snowstorm the first of last week, and more than 30 inches at Trappers Lake farther north in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
But the Forest Service advises that fall weather conditions and snow depths vary greatly, and that roads that can be snow-covered in the morning have melted off and are muddy by afternoon.
Warm and dry conditions this week have also melted off much of the snow that fell earlier in the month. One USGS measurement site just off of Buford Road north of New Castle measured 10 inches of snow on Nov. 7. By Wednesday, the snow depth was at 4 inches.
"Seasonal weather conditions may also affect road beds and possibly render routes impassible to wheeled vehicles," according to the Forest Service press release. "Ranger Districts may close roads to protect the roadbed surface."
Noss said the early-season travel restrictions can make it difficult for hunters following heavy snows, and suggested there should be some exceptions to the date-certain rule.
"I know some guys who hunt the fourth season, and they rely on snowmobiles to get their elk or deer out," he said. The final big game rifle season in Colorado began Wednesday and ends on Sunday.
Noss said most snowmobilers are going to be careful taking their sleds out in early season snow conditions.
"If you just went out and spent $10,000 on a new snow machine, you're not going to go out and drive it through the mud," he said.
In many cases, it's also "way less destructive" to use a snowmobile on a snow-covered road than a wheeled vehicle this time of year, Noss added.
To obtain current forest road conditions, travel restrictions and motor vehicle use maps, look for local ranger district information on the WRNF website, at http://www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver.