By Mark Esper
Nearly 1,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management acreage
adjacent to Molas
that has been used as a snowmobile playground for decades may soon be off
limits to all motorized use.
Jeffrey Christenson, outdoor recreation planner for the BLM
Tres Rios field office in Dolores, said the area in question is the West
Needles Contiguous Wilderness Study Area.
New guidelines for management of such areas were released in
July last year. Christenson said recently that those rules basically prohibit
snowmobile traffic and require the BLM to manage the area as if it were
actually a designated wilderness.
However, the BLM has allowed snowmobiling to continue in the
area this winter.
Christenson said BLM staff members have been working with
snowmobilers to figure out what to do next.
"We've been diving into this issue with the (Silverton)
snowmobile club since it's come up," Christenson said. "We're working through
them and the Colorado Snowmobile Association to figure out what we're going to
do to proceed from here."
Jim Lokey, president of the Silverton Snowmobile Club, said
until the last year or so, the BLM land in San Juan County
was managed through the Forest Service Columbine Ranger District.
That has since changed, with the BLM land in the county now
managed by the BLM field office in Dolores.
"The BLM looks at things a little differently than the
Forest Service does," Lokey said.
Lokey said the popular snowmobiling area has been used by
the snowmobile club for at least 20 years.
"We go back as far as the winter of 1992-93 with our
grooming permits in the area," Lokey said. And he said two snowmobile tour
vendors operate in the area on BLM permits as well as the Durango Dog Ranch
The area represents only a small portion of the 104 miles of
trails the snowmobile club maintains. But Lokey said it's a very popular area.
"It's a big family riding park for the snowmobile club,"
The snowmobile club's five-year permit to groom trails in
the area is coming up for renewal.
Christenson said if snowmobile trails in the area followed
established roads they might be permissible, but there are no established roads
for the snowmobile trails to follow.
"The rules have changed," Lokey said. "But they're allowing
us to continue operations this year until we can work this out."
County commissioners plan
to set up a meeting with BLM officials to discuss the matter.
County Commissioner Pete McKay said he has requested that
the BLM provide a timeline and supporting documentation on the wilderness study
area and its management criteria, going back to at least 1976.
"It's a very critical part of the recreation up at Molas,
and we've been using it for many years," said County Board Chairman Ernie
Fetchenhier said losing snowmobiling in the area could have a "huge" negative
effect on Silverton's economy.