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WRNF travel management plan’s nonmotorized areas no walk in the park

Richard Compton is no couch potato.

After all, the Carbondale environmentalist authored the book, “Mountain Biking in the Roaring Fork Valley.”

But even Compton appreciates the value of the occasional quiet, relaxing outing in the woods, one that doesn’t involve heart-pounding climbs and steep descents. And he believes opportunities for such outings will be too few with the direction the White River National Forest may be heading with its travel management plan.



Compton, director of the White River Conservation Project, attended two public meetings held by the WRNF as it sought comments on alternatives for a draft travel management plan.

He became concerned about the amount of steep terrain proposed for nonmotorized recreation.



“A lot of the areas that were supposedly nonmotorized recreation were totally inappropriate for recreation of any sort,” he said.

Compton especially sees a lack of areas available for backcountry skiing and snowshoeing.

One proposed nonmotorized area is Main Elk Creek north of New Castle. It’s only 6,000 feet at its bottom and south-facing, which limits snow accumulation, but when snow does build up, it is avalanche-prone, Compton said.

Similarly treacherous terrain is proposed for nonmotorized summer use, he said. One such spot is a steep, heavily forested slope along the Frying Pan River.

“As far as I know, there are no trails on it,” he said.

“It’s nice for keeping it wild, but it’s not much good for recreation,” he said of such areas.

“Some things look good on paper for (nonmotorized use) acreage, but are not effective,” he said.

A steep area in the Ten-Mile Range on the eastern edge of the WRNF also is included in this acreage, he said.

“In the wintertime it’s a death trap, and in the summertime it’s for the young and the hearty. I think what we really need is more quiet areas near population centers that are relatively easy for people to hike in … without being an aerobic hero.”

The problem, Compton believes, is that gentle terrain gets handed over to motorized forms of recreation, which is less practical in steeper areas. He understands that rationale, but argues that it shouldn’t mean so much of the gentle ground should be available for motorized use.

Sandy Lowell, a member of the Flattoppers snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle club in Glenwood and the White River Forest Alliance motorized vehicle advocacy group, agreed that some areas designated for nonmotorized areas may be impractical for human use.

But he also believes there’s plenty of wilderness available offering all kinds of terrain.

Wilderness areas are closed to motorized vehicles, but Compton said they are often remote and hard to get to, especially in winter.

Lowell isn’t anxious to see new areas declared off-limits to motorized uses.

The new overall forest plan adopted earlier this year designates 54 percent of the forest as nonmotorized in the winter, up from 41 percent in the old plan. Summer motorized areas dropped from 36 percent of the forest to 32 percent in the new plan.

Lowell fears that the travel management planning process now under way may only make things worse.

“Every time we go through one of these review processes, the guys who use motors in the forest lose,” he said.

Compton said environmentalists want the new travel plan to offer plenty of recreational opportunities and be ecologically responsible.

Compton thinks the travel plan process provides an opportunity for people to rethink what he considers a “free-for-all” attitude toward their activities in the natural world.

“I think it’s time for change, and that’s going to gore some people’s ox, for sure,” he said.

Human impacts are under study within the forest’s lynx habitat. The feline, reintroduced in recent years, is listed as a threatened species, so its habitat must be protected.

Compton said conservationists will analyze how the travel plan addresses lynx habitat, and make recommendations.

“I think it’s an important thing to provide that habitat not just for lynx,” said Compton.

He’s hoping lynx habitat protection will aid other sensitive species such as marten and wolverine.

Lanny Grant, of the Rifle Snowmobile Club, questions the logic behind lynx habitat protection, which would impact winter human activities.

The theory is that snowmobiling packs down snow and creates a pathway for other predators, eliminating the advantage lynx have with their snowshoe-like paws.

“There’s a lot of unfounded science in that regard,” said Grant. “It isn’t really a proven fact that compacted snow is going to give that much advantage to other predators.”

Snowpack is dynamic. Factors such as wind, level of moisture in the snow, and time of year all affect compaction, Grant said.

The Rifle Snowmobile Club has been busy listing snowmobile trails and play areas at the Forest Service’s request. Grant said areas not listed could be closed.

Meanwhile, Lowell and other motorized-use advocates continue to call for more looped summer trails. He said the WRNF is limited to primarily out-and-back trails. These hold less appeal and invite abuses by irresponsible recreationists who create new routes where a trail dead-ends.

Said Compton, “My basic take on that is that’s race tracks in the wilderness. It’s about driving, it’s not about being in the woods. It’s about the activity, not the place.”

That said, he believes properly designed and maintained looped trails can be accommodated to an extent, in areas where there are already large road networks. But Compton said it’s important “not to create blocs with people zooming around in noisy machines.”

The new forest plan has been appealed by numerous forest users. As a result, some motorized-user advocates have questioned how proper it is to go forward with travel management planning before the appeals are resolved.

The outcome could impact how travel management planning should proceed, said Lowell.

“The concern is that they’re jumping the gun,” Lowell said of the Forest Service.

But Compton noted that the travel plan will continue to take shape over the next year. The appeals process should be done long before the travel plan is cast in stone, he said. And he maintains that travel planning shouldn’t wait if litigation drags any appeals out longer.

The initial comment period on the plan ended Oct. 31, but other opportunities for comment will be provided later. Officials say a draft plan could be issued by late 2003, and the final plan could be done in 2004.


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