WRNF travel management planners must decide which road to take

Dennis Webb

Step on the throttle or slam on the brakes?That’s one way to sum up the two most extreme alternatives considered for the White River National Forest’s proposed travel management plan.A few weeks remain to submit initial comments on the plan. Four preliminary alternatives are on the table:-A maximum alternative, emphasizing the social and recreational needs associated with an expanded transportation system;-A minimum alternative, placing less of an emphasis on those needs and resulting in less impacts to resources.-A blended alternative that equitably considers social, recreation and resource needs.-A no-action alternative that reflects the current conditions under the recently adopted forest plan.The Forest Service recently held meetings across the region to explain the planning process and seek input. The initial comment period continues through Oct. 31.Wendy Jo Haskins, a transportation planner for the WRNF, said 25 to 45 people attended each of the meetings.Six decisions are to be made by the Forest Service in the travel management plan.-Designation of summer (snow-free) travel area strategies, which describe whether an area is open, restricted, or closed to a specific use and where that use is allowed.-Designations for specific road and trail uses during summer, including seasonal restrictions, for passenger cars, four-wheel drive vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, mountain bikes, horses and pack animals, and hikers.-Designation of winter travel area strategies.-Designation of winter travel routes for snowmobiles, skiers and other users.-Designation or closure of unclassified travelways.-Identification of specific roads for closure. Currently more than 500 miles of existing roads and trails are not officially designated as part of the forest travel system. These may have been constructed for a one-time use and never properly closed, or result from motorists repeatedly going off-road or off-trail to form an illegal road or trail.Legally, the Forest Service cannot recognize or maintain these roads.Therefore, the agency proposes taking a one-time look at designating these travelways or eliminating them, following an environmental review.After this process, any new roads made by off-road use will automatically be flagged for closure. Any proposed new road or trail must first undergo environmental analysis.The new forest plan calls for closing 22 miles of unneeded road per year. The travel plan will identify specific roads that meet the closure criteria.Haskins noted that whichever travel management alternative is adopted must fit within the scope of the new forest plan.Looking more closely at the alternatives being studied:-The maximum alternative would allow more opportunity to separate recreational uses and more opportunity for winter travel. It would add more unclassified roads and trails into the system and close fewer miles of roads. It would make the most miles of roads and trails available for travel. As a result, more impacts to resources would occur, and mitigation and protection measures would take longer.-The minimum alternative is the opposite of the maximum. It would have fewer routes designated for single use, and less opportunity for winter travel. Fewer unclassified roads and trails would be added to the system, with more miles of road selected for closure. This alternative would make the least amount of roads and trails available for travel, cause the least impact to resources, and take less time to implement mitigation and protection measures.-The blended alternative pursues a balanced approach containing separation of uses and shared use systems, and a moderate amount of area available for winter travel. Some unclassified roads and trails would be added to the system, and some system roads would be closed.-The no-action alternative contains the area strategies and roads and trails currently in the travel system. No unclassified roads or trails would be added to the system, and no classified roads would be designated for closure.Travel management comments may be mailed to Dottie Bell, White River National Forest, P.O. Box 948, Glenwood Springs CO 81602.

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