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August 30, 2012
Feds To Limit Forest Drop-Off Of ATVs, Snowmobiles, Mountain Bikes
"Not all proposed commercial activities are appropriate
for the location proposed, and some are not appropriate on national Forest
Service lands at all,"
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 tourism counties.
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 said.
Mountain-bike operations "are not off the hook because they are nonmotorized," she said. "They are commercial businesses."
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 experiences.
"It's killing me," said Scott Wilson, owner of
Colorado Backcountry Rentals.
Now, after receiving a letter at the height of the summer
season that declares him "in violation" and orders him to
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
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
"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
"It makes sense to me why people would be looking at rentals," said David Neely, the ranger in the forest's Eagle- Holy Cross district.
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
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 said.
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
Three national forests in
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 ecosystems."
"We're constantly dealing with changing recreation opportunities over time," he said. "We look at how to adapt."
Freedom To Drive
The Texans told
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 it."
As these smiling visitors rolled out on their vehicles,
"This could be it."
© 2013 SnoWest® Magazine