The Dolores Ranger District of the San Juan National Forest has released a final record of decision for trail use in the Rico-West Dolores area.
The travel-management decision comes after years of analysis and public input and is documented in a final environmental impact statement. The plan covers trails on a 244,000-acre section of national forest stretching from the West Fork River to Lizard Head Pass.
“I believe this decision provides an array of opportunities for public access to the forest and protects the long-term health and productivity of the land,” said Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla.
Single-track motorized trail opportunities were reduced but continue on many trails, and motorcycle use was added to one trail and some connectors.
Overall, 30 miles of single-track trail were changed to nonmotorized use from motorized. According to the decision, 84 miles of motorized trail riding will continue, including the Calico National Recreation Trail.
Also, 5 miles of forest road were converted to trail, and 19 miles of trails are designated for 62-inch-wide ATVs and UTVs to connect with forest roads. The current forest road system for Rico-West Dolores is 205 miles open to public use, a reduction of 13 miles, with some of those miles changed to motorized trails.
Trails that change from motorized to nonmotorized are: Burnett Creek, Horse Creek, East Fall Creek, Winter, Ryman, a portion of West Fall Creek Trail (from Winter intersection to Forest Road 471) and a portion of Bear Creek Trail (from the Colorado Highway 145 trailhead to the intersection with Gold Run trail). All of Wildcat Trail will be nonmotorized.
Trails that change from nonmotorized to motorized are Loading Pen and Hillside Connector, as well as a new trail to be developed in the Spring Creek area, pending additional environmental review.
Trails that continue their motorized designation are: East Fork, Gold Run, Grindstone, West Fall Creek, Calico North and Calico South, Eagle Peak, Johnny Bull, Priest Gulch, Stoner Mesa, East Twin Springs, West Twin Springs, the section of Bear Creek from Gold Run to Grindstone and Rough Canyon.
Also, a portion of Forest Road 578B in the Bolam Pass area will be converted from a road to a motorized single-track trail connecting to East Fork Trail.
The decision implements new seasonal restrictions for motorized use on trails to accommodate hunters and reduce impacts to big game wildlife and their young in winter and spring. For motorized trails, use will be allowed from June 1 to Oct. 31 and prohibited from Nov. 1 to May 31.
Seasonal restrictions for Black Mesa OHV trails are longer, with motorized use prohibited from Sept. 8 to May 31.
“This was done to accommodate walk-in hunters for the last two rifle seasons,” said forest environmental planner Debbie Kill.
All the new changes to the Rico-West Dolores trail use plan will begin Oct. 1. Use of new trails must not occur until the new trail is constructed, signed and the Dolores District issues a public service announcement regarding the availability of the new trail. Temporary closures on the Calico Trail will continue until further notice.
For more information, visit the San Juan National Forest website project page for Rico-West Dolores.
A bumpy trail forwardTrail plans can be controversial, and this one had its share since it was released in 2009. In 2010, public objections that it did not have enough environmental analysis forced forest officials to start over. Then a lawsuit by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Colorado Chapter challenged the legality of 14 existing motorized trails, claiming their impacts were not properly analyzed. But in 2015, a U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit and upheld the decision to allow motorized on the trails. The opinion was written by Appeals Court Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, who was later confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Montezuma County commissioners and motorized groups fought hard to keep Bear Creek and Burnett Creek trails open to motorized uses, but it did not happen. Single-track motorcyclists enjoy accessing Rico from the Calico Trail via Burnett Creek, proponents said. But Rico officials said they wanted it closed to motorized vehicles to reduce noise and traffic, and forest officials agreed.
The commissioners passed a resolution asserting the Bear and Burnett trails, plus other routes, are county rights of ways, claiming they are on historic maps from before the national forest was formed in 1905. Forest officials say the county has to prove its claims in court.