The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued a sprawling resource management plan for 567,000 acres of its public land, mostly in scattered parcels along the Colorado and Eagle rivers, but also in the valley between Aspen and Glenwood Springs.
The plan addresses three of the most popular BLM parcels in the Roaring Fork Valley — the Crown, Thompson Creek and Red Hill.
Agency recommendations for those recreational hot-spots include adding more than a dozen miles of bike trails and limiting motorized vehicles and camping on the Crown, approving the popular but illegal “Lorax Trail” in Thompson Creek, and banning overnight camping on Red Hill.
The Crown and Red Hill areas are to be managed primarily for day-use recreation, with an emphasis on mountain biking and limited motorized use.
The BLM’s Thompson Creek parcel, which lies within the broader Thompson Divide area, will continue to be managed primarily for its wilderness characteristics.
The plan, in the works since 2005, was released March 24 by the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office in Silt. It replaces a 1984 management plan issued from the BLM’s former field office in Glenwood Springs.
This final version of the plan is based on a 2011 draft environmental impact statement. A 30-day comment period on it runs through April 27.
The administrative area for the BLM’s Colorado River Valley office covers 2.9 million acres of land, which is bigger than Delaware, but smaller than Connecticut. It includes 567,000 acres of BLM land, 1.5 million acres of Forest Service land, and 811,300 acres of private land.
It also includes the 27,500 acres of BLM land inside Pitkin County, most of which adjoins U.S. Forest Service land and is valuable winter habitat for elk and deer.
The BLM’s online document trove for the plan includes over 1,100 pages of reports and 23 lengthy appendices.
The Wilderness Workshop, a nonprofit land conservation organization in Carbondale, said in an e-mail blast last week that it would take them “at least a couple of weeks” to analyze the BLM’s proposal and the final EIS.
The executive summary of the 20-year plan says its purpose is “to ensure that BLM lands are managed … under the principles of multiple use and sustained yield.”
It is a broad-based management plan, and site-specific decisions have been deferred to future “implementation-level planning. ”
“We have developed a plan that balances protection of sensitive resources with resource use,” said Steve Bennett, field manager for the Colorado River Valley Field Office, in a BLM press release.
However, the Pitkin County commissioners have warned the BLM that people are loving local BLM parcels “to death,” and the agency should consider tighter restrictions on recreation to preserve environmental values.
The Crown, which includes 9,100 acres of BLM land at the top of Prince Creek Road above Carbondale is proposed by the BLM to be managed as a “special recreation management area,” with an emphasis on mountain biking.
(For map, see Volume III, Appendix A-5, “Alternative B Travel Designation” for Zone I).
The designation still allows for limited vehicle use on some routes, but also allows new mountain biking trails to be constructed as part of a future site-specific plan.
“You still have motorized access on the Crown, but not every route is open to motorized,” said David Boyd, a public affairs specialist for BLM in Colorado River Valley office.
Appendix K in the BLM’s plan recommends constructing “approximately 12-to-15 miles of new single-track mountain bike trails to create loop trials, link existing trails, reduce the amount of biking on roads and create trail connections to new access points.”
“We worked really closely with users on this area,” said Boyd.
The BLM is also proposing to ban camping within a quarter mile of Prince Creek Road, except for designated sites, ban over-the-snow travel, and close the area to motorized and mechanized travel from Dec. 1 to April 15 “to protect wintering big game species.”
Pitkin County encouraged the BLM to designate the Crown as an “extensive recreation management area,” which has tighter restrictions on use than the “special recreation” designation chosen by the BLM in its final plan.
“The special recreation management area designation places too much emphasis on recreation at the expense of natural resources and wildlife,” states an August 2012 letter from the county commissioners to the BLM.
The BLM also did not designate the ridge on the Crown as an area of “critical environmental concern,” as the county requested.
Ellen Sassano, a long-range planner for Pitkin County, said the county is still reviewing the BLM’s proposal.
Red Hill, which includes 3,100 acres of BLM land north of Carbondale in Garfield County, is already designated a “special recreation management area” by the BLM and will continue to be managed as an area suitable for mountain biking and hiking.
(For map, see Volume III, Appendix A-5, “Alternative B Travel Designation” for Zone G).
A new mountain-biking trail on the north side of the Red Hill area is also contemplated in the BLM plan, but will require further environmental review.
Camping and overnight use on Red Hill, where they are currently allowed, are to be banned, and a seasonal wildlife closure is to be in effect from Dec. 1 to April 15, except in the Mushroom Rock area, which is a popular hike year-round.
Thompson Creek day use
A third area in the Roaring Fork River watershed, Thompson Creek, is proposed to be managed as an “extensive recreation management area.”
(For map, see Volume III, Appendix A-5, “Alternative B Travel Designation” for Zone H).
That’s a new designation, but is consistent with the area’s existing designation as “area of critical environmental concern.”
The 9,500-acre Thompson Creek BLM parcel sits between Thompson Creek Road and Highway 133 and is part of the broader area known as the Thompson Divide.
This BLM plan does not address the status of mineral leases under U.S. Forest Service land in the greater Thompson Divide area, which takes its names from both Thompson and Divide creeks.
The BLM plan for its Thompson Creek parcel pays special concern to managing the rock-climbing area known as the Fins. It also places an emphasis on non-motorized uses in the area, including mountain biking, hiking, climbing, horseback riding and hunting.
There is one loop road in the Thompson Creek parcel that will continue to be open for motorized travel, particularly for hunting, the BLM’s Boyd said. However, spur roads off that road are to be closed to motorized travel and new mountain biking trails are not approved.
The BLM is also proposing to approve a user-created, or “bandit,” mountain biking trail known the Lorax Trail. Pitkin County, in its comments, did not support continued use of the trail.
The agency also is proposing to ban camping within a quarter mile of USFS Road 305, and not allow over-the-snow travel. And the area will also see a new Dec. 1 to April 15 closure for motorized or mechanized use.
The BLM did not, as Pitkin County wanted, agree to create special management plans for Light Hill and Arbaney Mesa, two other popular parcels of BLM land in the upper Roaring Fork valley.
The BLM’s plan includes one big policy shift, and that is to require that travel occur on designated routes only.
In the past, BLM lands were considered “open” for any use, but under the new plan, users bear the responsibility of being on an appropriately designated trail.
“This is a good and welcome change,” said Wilderness Workshop in an e-mail to its members, “but expect a lot of grumbling and non-compliance.”
And the Workshop asks, “How will the BLM enforce it?”
BLM spokesman Boyd said “enforcement is always a challenge. ”
“We rely on people letting us know where there are problems, and then try and fix it with a lot of education,” Boyd said. “We’re going to try and make the new policy clear to people.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborated on this story with the Aspen Daily News, which published a version on Thursday, April 3, 2014.