The Denver Post
— Trying to protect Colorado
forests that hundreds of thousands more people visit each year, the U.S. Forest
Service is reining in the rental companies that deliver ATVs and snowmobiles at
Forest managers say they'll
also scrutinize mountain-bike-rental operations as part of a push to set
"commercial capacity" limits. Two companies that drop off and pick up
ATVs and snowmobiles at the Vail
Pass summit parking area
have received shut-down orders.
"Not all proposed commercial activities are appropriate
for the location proposed, and some are not appropriate on national Forest
Service lands at all," White
River National Forest
ranger Jan Cutts said in an e-mailed response to Denver Post queries.
Rentals of motorized and non-motorized vehicles have
exploded in recent years, with mountain-bike companies supplying 2,000 or more
visitors on peak days atop Vail Pass, which straddles two of Colorado's busiest
While the bike riders generally stick to paved paths along
Interstate 70, dozens of rented all-terrain vehicles and, in winter,
snowmobiles, roar into once-remote woods and can reach fragile alpine tundra,
terrain traditionally revered as wilderness.
"We saw, this year, a huge increase in the frequency
with which these businesses were delivering (vehicles to people)," Cutts
Mountain-bike operations "are not off the hook because
they are nonmotorized," she said. "They are commercial
Federal land managers say they must balance commercial use
with protection of public forests, which serve as watersheds and as habitat for
wildlife. But this is causing conflict with people who make their living by
delivering machines to increasingly savvy consumers of mountain recreation
"It's killing me," said Scott Wilson, owner of
Colorado Backcountry Rentals. Wilson
rents 20 sleds in the winter and 15 ATVs in the summer—a business he
established in 2004. His five-employee company offers to supply "your
ride" at any season in places "where you will ride unguided through
the backcountry of the Colorado Rockies."
Now, after receiving a letter at the height of the summer
season that declares him "in violation" and orders him to
"immediately stop," Wilson
is preparing a legal challenge.
For years, he has been consulting with federal forest and
highway authorities about the legality of his operations and seeking permits.
But federal rangers, corresponding with Wilson's
attorney, Lee Gelman, last week maintained their position that Colorado
Backcountry Rentals' operations on Vail
Pass and at the Tiger Road area in Summit County
"are not authorized activities."
Federal foresters "keep using the word
'unauthorized'—and, to that, I say, 'bull,' " said Wilson, who moved to
Colorado from Texas in 2001 and serves as the linebackers coach of the Summit
High football team.
"When you have thousands of people going out into
forests, how do you regulate that? I get that. They are doing their job,"
he said. "But why not give me a permit? You can limit my user days."
The mountain-bike rentals in Summit and Eagle counties are expanding by 10
percent a year, with more than a dozen companies delivering bikes and offering
shuttle transport to forest trailheads, Pioneer Sports manager Jeremy Mender
said. Beyond Vail Pass descents, Pioneer offers "full-suspension
mountain bikes" so that visitors can "enjoy a variety of single-track
trails" around Summit
"If you put a cap on that, you would be putting a cap
on the whole community as far as tax revenue is concerned," Mender said.
Restricting the trailhead rentals is complicated because
federal managers of the White
River National Forest,
which covers 3,571 square miles, already have issued 200 permits for other
commercial activities ranging from skiing to guided mushroom hunting. About 154
permits have been issued to outfitters that rent equipment and provide guides
who accompany visitors.
"It makes sense to me why people would be looking at
rentals," said David Neely, the ranger in the forest's Eagle- Holy Cross
But there's a downside, Neely said, because the vehicle deliveries
at trailheads "place somebody who may never have engaged in that activity
on a fairly powerful machine."
A decision will be be made this fall on forest commercial
capacity for rented snowmobiles, Forest Service officials said. A decision on
summer use of ATVs and mountain bikes will require more time, they said.
Forest officials told Wilson's
attorney they began work this summer with a university to gather data to help
determine "a summer-season commercial capacity" for areas accessible
from the Vail Pass summit.
A key factor, said Rich Doak, the recreation-policy
specialist for the forest, is the growing movement for "quiet use" by
limiting motorized vehicles such as ATVs.
"The quiet-use issue is popping up everywhere," he
Doak said rental operations are likely to be limited,
perhaps to only companies that send guides with their vehicles.
"We're in the process of determining what the capacity
is up there," he said. "I'm not positive that we're going to do
rental operations up there. It may be guided. It may be not at all."
Federal data show that the numbers of visitors in Rocky Mountain
forests have reached 32 million a year. The crowds are growing by about 4
percent a year, with 8.4 percent of visitors relying on ATVs or other personal
motorized vehicles, said Chris Sporl, acting director of recreation, heritage
and wilderness resources at Forest Service regional headquarters in Denver.
Three national forests in Colorado rank among the nation's six
busiest, Sporl said. The White
River National Forest
draws 9 million people a year.
Since 2005, forest managers have worked at creating
sustainable designated routes for motorcycles and ATVs in forests—trying to
make sure this use is compatible with forest soils, the need to prevent erosion
and other users' interests.
"One of the things we're focusing on is restoring and
adapting recreation settings. We've got areas that have been loved to
death," Sporl said. Future projects will restore heavily used areas
"back to where they need to be, back into balance with the
"We're constantly dealing with changing recreation
opportunities over time," he said. "We look at how to adapt."
Freedom To Drive
is trying to adapt. Last week, he dropped off a load of ATVs in mountains north
of Breckenridge, along Tiger Road,
for a family from Texas
and two newlyweds, fresh from safety seminars and crowned with bright, shiny
sent them on their way with some trepidation. Summit
County officials who oversee some land
in the area have notified Wilson
that they share federal land managers' concerns about unauthorized commercial
ATV- and snowmobile-rental operations.
The Texans told Wilson they
had previously rented ATVs for unguided riding near Durango and loved it.
The appeal, 52-year-old Jon Jobe said, "is to have
freedom to drive around and see things you want to see when you want to see
As these smiling visitors rolled out on their vehicles, Wilson turned to his
ringing cellphone. It was a sheriff's deputy calling. Private-property owners
nearby had complained about Wilson's
drop-offs and staging on that road. "You gotta leave," the deputy
"This could be it."
Bruce Finley: (303) 954-1700 twitter.com/finleybruce or firstname.lastname@example.org
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