Ski path system trails in funding
Supporters of a cross-country ski system off the Buford Road in the Flat Tops have successfully glided past the potential obstacle of a federal lynx conservation strategy.Now they hope to turn the corner when it comes to adding members to their club and raising funds for their project.This winter, the West Elk Multi-Use Club is operating a system at the West Elk Trailhead north of Silt with the blessing of the U.S. Forest Service. The group had attempted to maintain trails there in the past, only to have the Forest Service put a halt to their efforts. The agency had earlier sanctioned the trails, but later determined it had to consider whether the system could impact potential lynx habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the lynx as a threatened species. Rifle District Ranger Dave Silvieus said that after further review, the Forest Service decided that because the area already was open to snowmobile use, operating a ski trail system there wouldn’t create any additional impact to potential lynx habitat. The Forest Service has agreed to let the club operate the system for two years, after which it probably would have to seek a special use permit to continue doing so, Silvieus said.”We felt we could give them a couple of years to see how it’s going, how the use is, if there’s any conflicts or anything.”He said the club also will need to obtain liability insurance.Kay Robinson, who is on the club’s trails committee, said it has some other needs, too.”What we really need is something to pull behind a snowmobile so we can fluff up the snow,” she said.The club doesn’t have a groomer, and currently relies solely on snowmobiles to pack the trail. The club hopes to expand on a membership base of about 35 people, Robinson said. She said it asks for $10 per member, although it accepts donations of all amounts. Its members have contributed time and money to the construction and maintenance of a permanent outhouse at the parking lot, which also is a trailhead for snowmobilers. Many of the skiers also belong to the Rifle Snowmobile Club. Volunteers pack the ski trails and work during the summer to keep them clear of fallen logs.”We’re holding up and I’m hoping that we’re keeping the forest happy enough,” Robinson said. “We’re just bending over backwards trying to get this thing humming and to get final, you know, God’s blessing.”The Forest Service seems satisfied so far. Silvieus has skied the trails himself, and likes what he has seen of efforts to pack and mark them. The club also put some trail maps out at the parking lot.”They’re making some progress,” he said.He said the Forest Service hasn’t received any complaints about the trail system. One premise of the agency’s approval was that snowmobiles would not be banned from the trails, he said. On the other hand, both he and Robinson said the terrain where the trails are located is better suited to skiing.”The snowmobilers generally head north to get up to the big parks up in the Flat Tops,” Silvieus said.Robinson said the ski system includes a trail loop, some nonpacked trails in steeper areas and a telemark area. She thinks boosting club membership is important to the trail system’s long-term prospects.”I think numbers count a lot to the forest,” she said.Silvieus sees the club as potentially benefiting the Forest Service, which hasn’t had its own funding to put in winter trails.”We thought this was a good opportunity for a partnership with a users group to use their national forest land,” he said. “If they can do it right, it should be OK.”He said it’s possible the club may be able to tap into some state trails funding, perhaps through Great Outdoors Colorado, to help defray expenses.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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