Gate-crashers taking toll on public lands

Carrie Click
Post Independent Staff

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Kay Hopkins is trying to understand why vandals are ripping down road gates.

On Tuesday, Hopkins, a recreation planner for the Bureau of Land Management, stood near the base of Transfer Trail above Glenwood Springs, surveying the most recent damage to one of the BLM gates.

“There are plenty of places people can go in our resource area without yanking down these gates,” she said.

Hopkins said the incidence of gate vandalism has increased over the past couple of years. Places like Transfer Trail have been hit, as well as the Boiler Creek Access Road up East Elk Creek outside New Castle, and Prince Creek outside Carbondale. She said damaging BLM property such as closure gates is a misdemeanor.

The gated areas are part of the BLM’s seasonal road closure program, which generally takes place between December and April.

“There are numerous reasons we’ll choose to close a road during winter and mud seasons,” she said.

The BLM determines areas where vehicle traffic would negatively impact watersheds or wildlife, or cause erosion. Sometimes it’s the roads themselves. Sometimes it’s just one factor. Other times it’s many.

In the case of the Transfer Trail closure, Hopkins said the BLM needed to close it to protect improvements further up the road. Using a grant from the Colorado State Parks Off Highway Vehicles user groups, the BLM applied a fresh layer of gravel to a rutted-out section that was causing a big swath of erosion around the road.

Hopkins said the BLM decided on the closure to keep vehicles off the road during mud season. But since vandals ripped out the gate and gained access to the road, Hopkins said it’s likely the project is a wash.

“This vandalism is costing taxpayers money, not only with what it will cost to repair the damage to the gate, but repairing the damage to the road,” Hopkins said. “The gate damage alone is worth one month of my seasonal employees’ pay, working on trails, cleaning toilets and giving directions.”

Hopkins said when the BLM closes a road for a season, it doesn’t mean the area is closed to the public. Depending on the area, hikers, mountain bikers and snowmobilers are welcome to access the land.

“We post all the reasons for the closure right on the gate, so people can understand why we’re doing it,” she said.

Hopkins said BLM road closures are nothing new – they’ve been taking place since 1984.

She said she hates to bring up budget cuts, but the BLM has been hit hard just like many other state and federal agencies. She said the BLM just doesn’t have the funds to keep repairing the damage that vandals do to BLM equipment and land.

“In an age where outdoor recreation is really becoming the sport of choice to so many people, we all have a responsibility to minimize impacts to our public lands,” she said. “We all need to work to preserve what makes Colorado beautiful.”

Hopkins encourages anyone who may have information about who might be responsible for the Transfer Trail gate vandalism – or any other BLM gate damage – to call her at 947-2800. There is no Caller ID and no equipment to identify callers at Hopkins’ office.

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