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Definition of road travels gray area

Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson
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CARBONDALE – Tim Burden looked out of the window of a single-engine Cessna early Wednesday morning, peering over the nearly untouched expanse of the Thompson Creek roadless area in the White River National Forest. In anticipation of the June 21 Colorado Roadless Area Task Force meeting in Glenwood Springs, pilot Bruce Gordon treated Burden and his fellow Colorado Rocky Mountain School juniors to flights over the forest as part of an effort through his Aspen-based company EcoFlight to inspire students to protect roadless areas. But amid the discussions over the future of Colorado’s roadless areas, there’s confusion over what exactly a road is and what kind of motorized vehicles will be allowed in roadless areas if they’re protected. Some roads in the national forest may not be considered a road at all and could still legally carry motor vehicle traffic through a roadless area. Many off-road vehicles are welcome in roadless areas because they use trails, not roads.

So, what kind of road comes to mind when people talk about roadless areas? “The general public thinks about it the way you’d look it up in Webster’s,” said Vera Smith, conservation director for the Colorado Mountain Club. “A paved road or a dirt road you can take a regular vehicle on.” The definition of a road depends on which Forest Service regulation you’re reading. The 2001 Clinton-era Roadless Rule, which under its 2005 rewrite still protects 58 million acres of national forestland nationwide until states make recommendations to the Forest Service for roadless areas’ fate, defines a road according to a definition under Title 36 in the Federal Register: A road must be a motor vehicle travelway over 50 inches wide unless designated or managed as a trail. The Roadless Area Task Force also uses the definition for a road found in Title 36. (See the ‘What’s a Road’ box for other definitions.)

The WRNF 2002 forest plan says that roadless areas have no motor vehicle paths greater than 50 inches wide. There is “nothing that prohibits a motorized trail (in a roadless area) that is for vehicles under 50 inches,” said WRNF forest planner Rich Doak.”We can certainly have a route designated as a trail that you would say it looks, smells and feels like a road because of the size of it (possibly greater than 50 inches wide), but because of the way we manage it, we call it a trail,” he said. But, because of the conservative way WRNF designated its roadless areas, “we would not have a motorized trail accommodating a vehicle greater than 50 inches in width in a roadless area.”Garfield County defines a road based on its historical or prescriptive use, or whether it has been surveyed and appears on a map, said County Manager Ed Green. That means the county could consider an ATV trail that has received years of use a road, one that could even cross federal land. Under 1866 mining law Revised Statute 2477, which granted rights of way to local governments for the construction of highways over public lands not reserved for other uses such as an Indian reservation, Moffatt County claims about 240 miles of roads in Dinosaur National Monument, in many places where no apparent roads exist. The federal Bureau of Land Management recognizes routes and roads on its land. The Glenwood BLM office maintains about 140 miles of roads. There are many more miles of routes that look like roads, such as those that provide access to oil and gas wells, but aren’t maintained by the agency, said BLM community planner Brian Hopkins.



Then there’s the Colorado Department of Transportation definition of a road, which for new roads at the very least means a strip of pavement – the state doesn’t maintain any unpaved roads – with two lanes each 12 feet wide with shoulders two feet wide, said CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks. While the idea of a road changes dramatically from one agency to the next, only those roads 50 inches or wider are up for discussion before the Roadless Area Task Force in June. Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. 520bmagill@postindependent.comWhats a road?White River National Forest: Vehicle travelway greater than 50 inches wide. Doesnt include ATV trails, which are allowed in roadless areas. Bureau of Land Management: Travelway maintained by agency. Could include dirt roads or two-track roads, but not necessarily heavy duty routes to natural gas well heads, which are maintained by gas companies. Garfield County: A travelway that is surveyed or plotted on a map, or that has had historical or prescriptive use. Could be anything a paved road or faint ATV trail. CDOT: Minimum two-lane highway with 12 foot lanes and two-foot shoulders.


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