Hubbard Mesa open area poses user conflicts
A swath of federal land out by Hubbard Mesa has become increasingly popular over the years due to its designation as an open area, which allows for various uses from dirt biking to target shooting to mountain biking. With that popularity, though, some are starting to question if all the various user groups can coexist in the 2,460 acres of open space located just outside of Rifle city limits to the west.
It’s a question that the Bureau of Land Management hopes to address when it releases a supplemental environmental impact study for the Roan Plateau — an area encompassing the Hubbard Mesa open space. BLM has been working on the document since January 2013 in response to a June 2012 court decision stemming from a lawsuit filed by conservation groups against the BLM and Bill Barrett Corporation.
However, recent concerns from residents over target shooting in the open area has led the BLM to consider including possible management options in the supplemental document, said David Boyd, BLM public affairs specialists.
Some of those complaints have come from members of the local mountain biking community, many of whom say they have had several close calls in the open area. That includes Travis Kaiser, a Rifle resident who enjoys mountain biking by Hubbard Mesa. Kaiser was biking three months ago with his two young children by the JQS Road and County Road 290 when he said he heard a series of gun shots whizz through the air.
“I started screaming ‘hey, hey,’” and they drove off, Kaiser said in recalling the event. It was not the first time something like this had happened to him, he said, but with his kids present the event was especially troubling.
Others in the mountain biking community have similar stories from rides in the open area. While it’s not necessarily new, they say it is becoming increasingly problematic as more users of various forms of recreation flock to the area.
“More people are using this area due to its popularity,” said Steve Wells, another Rifle resident who enjoys biking in the area. “And some people are making unsafe choices.”
However, the severity of those unsafe choices depends on who you talk to. Mario Pena, a Rifle resident, has been coming to the open area for years, usually to the exact same spot off of County Road 244, to target shoot. During that time, Pena said there has been several instances where another person shot in his general direction, sometimes within 100 feet of where he was standing. Pena, whose choice location faces directly into the side of a hill, concedes that there are some “jerks” who come out to target shoot, but overall that has not stopped him from coming to the area.
Wells and others are quick to point out that they also target shoot and that they believe most of those who come to target shoot in the open area do so responsibly.
That fact is true of Battlement Mesa resident Eric Grant, who was recently out target shooting with his daughter in the open area. Grant said he always makes sure he is shooting into a proper backstop — which the BLM recommends — and that his line of fire does not cross any trails or distinct paths that others might traverse.
There are some people who come out and fire off their weapons without taking the proper safety precautions, Grant said, but most of the other target shooters he sees generally practice similar safety measures.
That is often the case, Elliott Hinckley, BLM law enforcement ranger, said after reminding a small group of target shooters to pick up their trash on a recent Sunday afternoon. There are instances when Hinckley said he comes across a person or people shooting irresponsibly, but it is still technically legal as long as they are in the open area.
That leaves some in the community wondering what can be done to make the area safer, without seriously restricting other uses.
“It should be shared but safe,” said Sean Strode, another Rifle resident and mountain biker. Strode said he also has had several close calls. He considers several factors, such as choosing a time when there is minimal activity, before biking in the open area. Ideally, there would be a path forward allowing all the recreation groups to continue using the area while making it safer.
That is what the BLM hopes to achieve when it releases a draft version of the supplemental document for public comment in the fall, but it is still early in the process, Boyd said. Any final decision would not come until likely the end of 2016.
Kaiser said he is more optimistic now that the BLM is actively looking into the matter. He has not been back to the area since the incident three months ago.
“Everybody has a right to shoot,” he said, “but everybody also has a right not to get shot.”
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