ORV users fighting for their trails in the White River forest
Off-road vehicle riders are the Rodney Dangerfield of White River National Forest users – they feel they don’t get any respect.
Hikers generally despise them because the noise from their machines shatters solitude. Mountain bikers have an uneasy truce with them on the routes they both covet. The former head of the U.S. Forest Service declared about a decade ago that managing dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and four-wheel-drive vehicles was the biggest challenge facing the agency.
It’s in that troubled environment that Traci Schalow of Carbondale has been trying to help organize off-road riders. She and Mike Thuillier formed the Colorado Backcountry Trail Riders Alliance to promote responsible, sustainable forest use and to lobby federal land managers to keep trails open to them.
Off-road enthusiasts have been eager to answer the call in recent years after environmental groups launched the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign, which aims to protect additional lands in Pitkin, Gunnison, Eagle and Summit counties as wilderness. Motorized and mechanized uses are prohibited in wilderness. The off-road community realized it needed to get organized if it wanted its voice heard in the debate.
“I think it helped get a lot of people who would like to continue using our public lands educated as to what wilderness designation really means for the entire community – even for issues that reach far beyond motorized use,” Schalow said. “If we don’t speak up, get involved and begin to truly maintain and steward some of these areas, we stand to lose.”
That desire to demonstrate they are responsible forest users led to efforts such as last summer’s partnership with Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers and a mountain bike contingent on a trail improvement project near Basalt Mountain.
Lobbying efforts to keep trails open to off-road vehicles have produced mixed results. Off-road riders didn’t fare so well when the White River National Forest Travel Management Plan (TMP) was released earlier this year. The TMP, the bible for what routes are open to which users, reduced the amount of single-track trail open to dirt bikers to 56 miles when it was released last summer, according to Schalow. All told, there are between 1,100 and 1,200 miles of routes open to dirt bikes, but most of that is double-track. Like many mountain bikers, dirt bikers crave the narrow single routes that are often choked with obstacles that require technical handling skills.
The trail riders alliance wants more single-track trails open to them, particularly options that connect key networks and allow riders to make a loop.
“Otherwise, there’s just too much congestion. This is a growing sport in our valley,” Schalow said.
Dirt bikers who are plugged into the discussions feel they finally have the ear of the Forest Service. White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams, on the job less than two years, has assured them that the Travel Management Plan is a “living, breathing document” that can be changed to address legitimate concerns, according to Schalow. “He was the first supervisor that took our sport seriously in the valley,” she said.
So riders are trying to convince him that the travel plan needs to be altered. One significant change they are seeking is the re-opening of the Green Gate Trail, single-track that connects Basalt Mountain to the mid-Roaring Fork Valley to a 40-plus mile trail network administered by the Bureau of Land Management near Gypsum.
“The reason I do all this pro-moto advocacy work with the community, Forest Service and BLM agencies is, selfishly, to continue to be able ride and access these great places,” Schalow said.
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