WRNF unveils new road, trail system proposal | PostIndependent.com

WRNF unveils new road, trail system proposal

Bobby MagillPost Independent Staff

Taking away an ATV trail in a national forest can be personal for many who find adventure by bounding over boulders with a four-wheeler on a rocky route deep in the woods.But White River National Forest officials say that a proposed new plan governing what forest roads and trails motorized vehicles can use – the proposal could slightly reduce the number of miles of motorized vehicle routes in the forest – is good for recreation and good for the environment. Use of ATVs and motorcycles in the WRNF is expected to increase drastically in the coming years, and the current forest travel plan is out of sync with the National Environmental Policy Act and the 2002 WRNF management plan – two reasons forest officials have proposed the new travel management plan. To manage increased traffic and to comply with the forest plan, WRNF Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson said at a press conference Thursday that the Forest Service prefers a travel plan that balances recreational demands on the forest with the needs of the environment rather than managing the forest’s trails and roads only for conservation or motorized vehicle use. Depending on which version is approved, the proposal released Thursday could govern up to nearly 2,300 miles of motorized vehicle trails and roads, and nearly 5,000 miles of hiking trails, all of which will be part of the official forest road and trail system. Some “bandit” trails, or unofficial trails created by forest users, will be added to the system, and many will be closed, Gustafson said. Forest officials say that the current travel plan, which was originally developed in 1979 and revised several times since then, is outdated and cannot handle future motorized vehicle traffic on the forest. The proposed new plan, which has been in the works since 2002 and is set be finalized late next spring after a 90 day public comment period, outlines four options for how the WRNF’s roads and trails will be managed. If forest officials’ preferred option, Alternative D, is approved, 188 miles of roads, three miles of ATV trails and 28 miles of motorcycle trails will be removed from the forest’s road and trail system, while 275 miles of hiking trails we be added. There are now about 1,000 miles of “bandit” trails on the WRNF, while current motorized vehicle routes in the forest total about 2,100 miles. Alternative D also calls for 826 miles of routes – both “bandit” and otherwise – to be closed. The no-action option, Alternative B, calls for more than 1,100 miles of routes to be closed, because most of them are “bandit” routes. The proposal is more complex than it may seem, said WRNF travel planner Wendy Haskins. She said some of the trails and roads have been switched to other uses, and many trails could be designated for more than one kind of use. An ATV trail, for example, could also be listed as a motorcycle trail, and that trail’s mileage could be listed under the mileage totals for both kinds of uses. Haskins said people can be confused by the mileage numbers, thinking that forest officials are trying to eliminate certain activities in the forest or completely open the forest up to others. “We’re trying to develop a quality travel management network on the forest, and that encompasses a lot of uses,” she said. “A lot of people feel like they’re being targeted. … People kind of take it personally.”The public has until Oct. 26 to comment on the proposal, which is available on the WRNF Web site, http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/.The Forest Service will also hold two open houses in August, when the public can discuss the proposal with forest officials. The nearest open houses to Glenwood Springs will be at 6 p.m. Aug. 16 at the Rifle Fire Station, and 3 p.m. Aug. 23 at the El Jebel County Building near the El Jebel City Market. Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. 520bmagill@postindependent.com


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