The San Juan National Forest is currently occupied with recreation plans offering landscape-altering changes to hundreds of thousands of acres of forests, meadows and alpine tundra.The agency responsible for stewardship of our nation's forest heritage has finally embarked on long-overdue decisions to restrict motorized vehicles to designated roads and trails across the western third of the national forest. Until now, drivers literally could steer their motor vehicles anywhere across the landscape they so desired, without legal limitations.
Surprising as it seems, it has taken until 2009 for the Forest Service to finally come to grips with the common-sense conclusion that it's not really OK to take off driving cross country anywhere the urge strikes. Perhaps the agency has delayed this common-sense decision for fear of backlash from a very few extreme motorized enthusiasts, but the day has long since passed when the Forest Service should assert its management responsibilities for protecting watersheds, wildlife, soils and vegetation.
Currently, the San Juan forest is seeking public comment about its plan for designating trails in the so-called Rico-West Dolores landscape. The proposed plan for managing recreational travel around Rico and Dunton Hot Springs, on Storm Peak and Taylor Mesa, throughout the tributaries of Dolores River's main stem and West Fork, is open to comment by interested recreational users until June 22.
The plan targets a few key decision points. One decision is the elimination of unfettered motorized travel across the countryside. In the future, cars, truck, motorcycles and ATVs will be restricted to trails and roads designated as appropriate for their use. Obviously, another key decision entails exactly which trails will be opened for motorized travel, and which trails will be limited to so-called "quiet uses" such as hiking, bicycling and horses.
One critical element of the Rico-West Dolores plan is identification of motorized trails through high-elevation zones above the treeline and in the tundra. The town of Rico and local trail users are urgently urging the Forest Service to keep motorized vehicles off the above-treeline portions of the Calico Trail west of Rico, in the Storm Peak Roadless Area.
Area landowners are weighing in with their own concerns. While in years past, landowners next to the national forest might have tolerated hikers or horse riders crossing onto their land at the end of a trail that originated on adjacent national forest, today many are less tolerant of motorized uses. This is particularly the case for the owners of Dunton Hot Springs, who have lost patience with motorized trespass onto their lands, as well as for a number of other property owners along the Dolores River valley.
A second large recreation planning effort also just launched for the Boggy Draw area immediately north of the town of Dolores, including all of the national forest surrounding McPhee Reservoir. The Forest Service recently solicited ideas about how to manage recreation there as well.
To comment about either plan, visit www.fs.fed.us/r2/sanjuan/projects/projects.shtml. Comments can be e-mailed to email@example.com.
Mark Pearson is director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.