Draft forest travel plan nearly ready to roll out | PostIndependent.com

Draft forest travel plan nearly ready to roll out

The U.S. Forest Service is aiming for a July 30 release date for the draft travel management plan for the White River National Forest.

WRNF transportation planner Wendy Haskins said that date could be pushed back, but not if she can help it.

“We’re still shooting for summer because we’d like to allow people to get into the field with the draft,” she said.

An early enough release of the draft plan would allow people to get a first-hand look at summer roads and trails at issue in the plan.

The travel plan will designate what areas are open, restricted or closed to various forms of travel in summer and winter, and determine specific road and trail uses.

It also will decide the fate of more than 500 miles of existing roads and trails not officially designated as part of the forest travel system. These may have been constructed for a one-time use and never properly closed, or result from motorists repeatedly going off-road or off-trail.

The draft plan will lay out various alternatives for travel management, and identify a preferred alternative. Public comments will be sought on the draft plan before a final plan is released.

The Forest Service originally tried to work on the WRNF travel plan and overall long-range forest plan simultaneously. But the agency decided to postpone work on the travel plan until after releasing the forest plan in 2002. The two efforts were too complex to pursue at the same time, officials said.

In fall 2002, the Forest Service gathered some 2,000 comments regarding WRNF travel management, including nearly 600 letters. Concerns ranged from a feeling that some terrain that could be set aside for nonmotorized recreation is too steep for such use to a fear of more areas declared off-limits to motorized uses.

“There were some distinct patterns,” Haskins said of the comments. “Hopefully our alternatives will be able to cover a lot of the issues that were brought out.”

A year ago, the Forest Service was hoping to release a draft travel plan by this spring. But Haskins said the time line was delayed in part because the Forest Service has been busy updating its road and trail inventory based on input from the public and its own staff.

“It is a long process; we’re looking at a large amount of land,” she said.

The WRNF consists of 2.3 million acres, stretching from Meeker to Aspen, and Rifle to Silverthorne.

The Forest Service has been working to use new technologies such as geographic information systems, databases and spreadsheets to update its inventories and improve accuracy.

Much of the Forest Service staff on the WRNF has been involved in work on the plan. About 20 people from various disciplines are helping write analysis contained within the draft. Also, district ranger office personnel have been involved in road and trail inventory work, mapping, and helping create various travel management alternatives for the public to consider.

“They’re the field experts, so we want to use their expertise as much as we can,” Haskins said.

She said the Forest Service hopes to get the draft plan out as soon as possible, but also to create a quality product.

“We’re not going to compromise to save a month or two,” she said.

She said the final plan probably will be released in 2005.

The travel plan work has taken on a low profile for the Forest Service since the first public comment period ended. But Haskins expects a fair amount of public involvement once the draft plan is released.

“It will become something concrete and I think that will be a good time for a lot of interaction,” Haskins said.

Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516


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