The Bureau of Land Management on Friday released a plan to update 1986 regulations governing recreation in the Alpine Triangle, which is about 186,000 acres anchored by the municipalities of Silverton, Ouray and Lake City.
A proposal by Trout Unlimited to protect many of the same acres through a congressionally designated National Conservation Area is not affected by the BLM study.
"Our plan update isn't related to Trout Unlimited," said Jed Botsford, an outdoor recreation planner with the BLM in Bayfield. "Trout Unlimited introduced its plan in 2009. We started our study in 2006."
Current management of recreation in the Alpine Triangle serves the public and the environment relatively well, Botsford said. Still, motorized recreation and the protection of historic sites require new attention.
Relics from the region's mining heyday are deteriorating and motorized traffic has increased tremendously, Botsford said.
"We used to see a family of four in a Jeep," Botsford said. "Today the same family of four often is traveling on four ATVs."
Staging areas for large trailers transporting individual vehicles is one focus of the updated plan, Botsford said. Camping, snowmobiling, ice climbing, cross country skiing and dog sledding also are increasing, he said.
The BLM draft doesn't mention a National Conservation Area.
"We believe the BLM does a fabulous job of managing the Alpine Triangle, especially given its limited budget," Ty Churchwell, with the Five Rivers chapter of Trout Unlimited, said Friday. "It does little to change the current management plan, while recognizing that the resource is under ever-increasing pressure from recreational users."
Churchwell said the motto for the Trout Unlimited campaign is: Keep it like it is. He said his organization wants to give the BLM long-term direction on management and possibly funding.
The BLM can't advocate for or endorse any particular legislative action, Churchwell said. The land is public and self-governance is the cornerstone of discussions.
"It's up to citizens to direct the BLM as to how we'd like to see our public lands managed," Churchwell said. "The (BLM) recreational plan is a good indicator of the beliefs of Alpine Triangle stakeholders and a tool we can use as we start discussions about the future of the area."
If Congress establishes a National Conservation Area or designates a national monument in the Alpine Triangle, an updated recreation plan could be adopted as the recreation element, Botsford said.
"We'd have to go back and write a whole new plan for other activities such as livestock management and mining," Botsford said.
San Juan County commissioners last month voted 2-1 to oppose formation of a National Conservation Area, citing the possibility that such a designation could preclude or limit mining.
At an earlier hearing, mining interests and others raised similar opposition - the demise of the region's traditional claim to fame, loss of jobs and the sufficiency of existing recreational opportunities. One speaker accused Trout Unlimited of shilling for the federal government.
The BLM owns 145,000 acres in the Alpine Triangle recreation area. The Colorado Division of Wildlife owns 334 acres and 40,000 acres are held privately.
Among proposed changes in the BLM recreation plan: Expanded trail heads and parking areas, restriction of mountain bikes to designated trails and roads, conversion of some informal trails into a maintained system, improving fishing access to Lake San Cristobal, banning permanent climbing anchors in wilderness and wilderness-study areas, limiting the size of tour groups related to special events, banning competitive motorized racing and prohibiting camping and campfires adjacent to historic structures.