Change in Forest Service road closures has new ally
What’s the process?
• The current public comment period closed July 30.
• Officials in the district office will evaluate those comments.
• The Forest Service will then conduct an “environmental assessment” of the roads that might be re-opened.
• Finally, a “record of decision” will be issued.
EAGLE COUNTY — A proposal to re-open more than 130 miles of U.S. Forest Service roads got a significant ally this week: U.S. Rep. Jared Polis.
Polis, a Boulder Democrat who represents roughly the eastern half of Eagle County, this week sent a letter supporting re-opening the roads — closed by a 2011 travel management plan — to Dave Neely, the district ranger for the Holy Cross and Eagle districts of the White River National Forest. U.S. Forest Service officials earlier this year started an official investigation into re-opening the roads.
Polis’ letter is dated July 31, the day after the official public comment period ended. But, Neely said, any time a congressional representative takes a stand on an issue, the Forest Service takes notice.
“Congress provides oversight, so whenever we receive input we pay attention,” Neely said.
And, Neely added, any time any elected official weighs in on a proposal, people in his office pay attention, since people elected to office, by definition, represent the views of many people.
Polis may be the most high-profile official to weigh in on the proposal to revise the Forest Service’s “Motor Vehicle Use Map.” Neely has received letters of support for re-opening the roads from the Eagle County commissioners as well as the towns of Eagle and Gypsum, among other local and state agencies.
In a statement responding to an emailed question about why he wrote the letter to Neely, Polis wrote:
“I heard from constituents about the change to the Travel Management Plan during community meetings. In addition, I heard from hundreds of constituents during my recent ‘Show us your Colorado’ Facebook photo contest when a photo of a mountain bike overlooking the mountains in Eagle County came in second place. I decided to write to the U.S. Forest Service because public lands should allow for multiple uses, including off-road vehicles. The original Travel Management Plan hurt recreation opportunities by closing down popular roads. Just as hikers want quiet and pristine trails, off-road vehicle users also need space to enjoy their favorite outdoor activities on our nation’s public lands.”
The news that Polis, who also has backed legislation creating more wilderness in Eagle County, wrote in support of expanding motorized recreation use in the area, came as a pleasant surprise to Gary Ratkowski, owner of Boyz Toyz in Eagle. That shop sells snowmobiles and off-highway vehicles.
“I think (Polis’ letter) will help,” Ratkowski said, adding that the local economy could use a boost from re-openings the roads.
“Our sales are down, and our rental business is almost dead,” Ratkowski said. “Hunters aren’t coming to town because they can’t walk these mountains.”
Phil Lindeman is the sales manager at Integra Motorsports in Gypsum, which sells motorcycles and off-highway vehicles. Lindeman said he can’t say for certain whether the forest road closures have affected sales at the dealership.
“But we’ve had people thinking about buying who have had reservations,” Lindeman said, adding that he’s heard customers’ worries about losing places to ride.
The 2011 road closures have also created confusion about just where people can legally use their machines.
“People may not be aware” of the changes, Lindeman said.
Both Lindeman and Ratkowski said the economic effects of re-opening the roads will stretch farther than the front doors of their businesses. Lindeman said motels, restaurants and other businesses will benefit if the area is more friendly to off-highway vehicles.
And, Ratkowski said, it’s people who own and work for those businesses who will boost his bottom line, since they’ll be better able to afford off-highway toys if they’ve done well during hunting season.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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