East Elk Creek Road remains ‘open’
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
NEW CASTLE, Colorado – A controversial one-mile stretch of East Elk Creek Road north of New Castle is, for now, designated as closed to regular motor vehicle traffic, under the recently released White River National Forest Travel Management Plan.
That means, according to Rifle District Ranger Glenn Adams, that the road is designated as being open only to all-terrain vehicles, mountain bikes, horses and foot traffic.
But practically speaking, Adams said, use of the road will remain as it has for more than a century, due both to bureaucratic deadlines and the interests of the area’s residents.
“Given the public feeling about it,” said Adams, “I just don’t think it would be prudent on my part to have a heavy hand out there. There’s no resource damage going on.”
About 25 people testified along those lines at a meeting Tuesday evening in New Castle that involved the New Castle Town Council, the Garfield County Commissioners and representatives of the U.S. Forest Service.
At the meeting, those who commented universally favored keeping the road open to regular vehicles, including 2-wheel-drive sedans, vans and trucks, which has historically been the case.
But the road also is designated as “primitive,” meaning there will be no routine maintenance on the route. Local residents this week indicated they have no objections to it being a “primitive” route, as long as it is not closed to cars by decree.
Local residents, speaking at the Tuesday meeting, made it clear they disagree with nearby landowners who want the road to be closed to normal vehicular traffic, such as photographer John Kelly.
“He just wants to keep it private for himself,” said local resident Judy Campbell, referring to Kelly, whose land is crossed by the East Elk Creek Road.
The county road enters the national forest through a gate and follows East Elk Creek for about one mile, until it reaches a narrow footbridge that leads further into the forest.
At one time, a wider bridge in that spot carried vehicles, and the road led to a gold mine and lumber mill, both of which have shut down.
Kelly, with some of his neighbors, has supported Forest Service efforts to close the road.
They have argued that the road is too narrow in places for cars and trucks, and that a car crashing into the creek or other polluting incidents would mean trouble for New Castle, which draws its water from the creek.
Though he was not at the meeting, Kelly said on Wednesday that he has all but surrendered to seeing the road remain open to all vehicular traffic.
But, he added, it was never his proposal in the first place to close the road to all but horse and foot traffic.
“This is not my idea,” he declared. “This is the Forest Service’s idea,” he said, as a way to reduce damage to federal lands.
The entire debate, Kelly continued, “is real simple. It’s the ‘Land of Many Uses’ and I’m glad to see people using it. The more people use it, the more they respect the land.”
But he has argued that partying by large groups and other activities have trashed parts of the woods in the past, and that he and his neighbors, the Sample and Chandler families, have spent considerable time and effort cleaning up messes left behind.
Adams said there is no specific documentation to support Kelly’s contention that the Forest Service wants the road restricted, other than the fact that the road was recommended for a change in status to limit traffic to ATVs, equestrians, mountain bikers and hikers.
While the Travel Management Plan has listed the road as off-limits to cars, the plan is subject to a 45-day protest period that ends in mid-June, followed by an unknown amount of time to deal with any protests.
Adams predicted that the Travel Management Plan will not be implemented this summer, at any rate.
In the meantime, he said, the use of the road will remain as it has been, while the forest service and Garfield County work on an ongoing dispute about whether it is a county road or a forest road.
Both sides are searching for documents showing the road is in the jurisdiction of one or the other, although officials have indicated that the jurisdictional dispute is not expected to affect the question of who can use the road.
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