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Forest officials explain wilderness rules

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

San Juan National Forest officials Tuesday explained to La Plata County commissioners why visitors to the Weminuche Wilderness face mandatory registration, starting next year.

Officials say they welcome questions, and said they want public opinion about how best to implement the requirement, necessitated by misuse and abuse of the most-frequented areas of the preserve.

The Weminuche comprises 500,000 acres straddling the Continental Divide from Silverton to Wolf Creek Pass.

Matt Janowiak, Columbine District ranger, and Brian White, San Juan National Forest recreation manager, will brief San Juan County commissioners today on the issues. Public meetings, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., will be held April 23 in Durango, April 25 in Silverton, May 2 in Pagosa Springs and May 7 in Vallecito.

Further information is available from White at 385-1246 or at www.fs.usda.gov/sanjuan under “Quick Links.” Color-coded maps in red, orange and green show endangered, moderately used and less-visited areas, respectively.

“We don’t have all the answers,” Janowiak said. “We need to start a dialogue with the public.”

The number of visitors anticipated in the wilderness is nearing the limits set in 1998, Janowiak said. The Needles Trail into Chicago Basin, popular with mountain climbers, and the Vallecito Trail north of Durango are particularly under duress from foot traffic.

Motorized or mechanized travel is prohibited. The new registration requirement will not entail a fee or remove any allowed activities.

No citations for failure to register will be given for two to three years.

Boxes with registration forms are expected to be installed at the 40-plus trailheads into the Weminuche by next summer. Individuals or group leaders will fill out a form, leaving half and keeping a copy in case they are challenged.

National Forest officials would like public opinion about such issues as to what registration forms should look like, how to educate the public on the need for more stringent requirements, how to handle outfitters, and scientific investigators and strategies for compliance and enforcement.

Overused areas of the Weminuche are showing the strain of cutting trees and bushes for firewood, sterilizing soil with campfires, disposing of human waste improperly and degrading wetlands.

daler@durangoherald.com

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