Local back country motorcyclist Mike Thuillier, owner of KTM Aspen near Glenwood Springs, examines a map while  in front of a trail sign.
Local back country motorcyclist Mike Thuillier, owner of KTM Aspen near Glenwood Springs, examines a map while in front of a trail sign. Credit: Photo courtesy Mike Thuillier / KTM Aspen

SILT – There is less than a week to go before the U.S. Bureau of Land Management closes the final public-protest period on a set of revised rules that will govern public use of roads and trails that cross BLM lands.

The BLM in March released its final draft of revisions to the Colorado River Valley Field Office Resource Management Plan, which covers roughly 2.9 million acres of western Colorado, specifically areas in Pitkin, Garfield, Eagle and Routt counties, along with a tiny piece of Rio Blanco County.

The revised plan, expected to finalized and adopted in 2015, is to replace a similar document produced in 1984.

According to the executive summary of the proposed revisions, management decisions outlined in the 1,300-page document (not including appendices) apply to not only the BLM-controlled 505,000 acres within the Colorado River Valley Field Office Resource Management Plan, but to minerals lying beneath approximately 701,000 acres of federal, state and private lands throughout the plan’s jurisdiction.

The management decisions represented by the proposed management plan are to govern everything from motorized and non-motorized recreation to ranching and cattle grazing, mineral exploration and extraction, protection of “wild and scenic rivers” as well as “lands with wilderness characteristics” and other categories of use.

The region known as the Roan Plateau near Rifle was not covered by the current process because it already is subject to a 2008 resource management plan. The Roan Plateau management plan is tied up in court currently.

A public protest period for the proposed plan, open to any individuals or groups that took part in the earlier review process and comment periods, ends on April 27.

Considering just the travel management portion of the overall plan, the proposed revision has caused some controversy among public lands users, particularly among “mechanized” (mountain bikers) and “motorized” trail users.

The proposed revision represents a change in emphasis for the BLM, away from the historic “open lands” emphasis, under which travel on federal lands was only loosely controlled.

The new management philosophy places restrictions on the roads and trails, which will now be designated either as “limited” to specific types of travel (foot, horse, mechanized or motorized), or “closed” to motorized travel but still open to foot, horse and mechanized travel.

Under the existing rules, the open designation applied to roughly 295,000 acres of the field office’s district, along with 38,000 acres “limited to existing routes” and 4,300 acres limited seasonally (summer, May 1 to Nov. 30), for a total of 337,300 acres of terrain.

Under the “preferred alternative” set out in the proposed plan (known as Alternative B), there are to be no more areas “open to cross country travel,” and 464,000 acres would be limited to designated routes, 41,200 acres closed to off-highway vehicle use (compared to 44,000 closed-to-motorized acres in the current rules).

As part of the new travel management philosophy, according to BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner Greg Wolfgang, “There is a reduction in the overall mileage of motorized routes” as well as in the number of routes open to motorized travel.

The management plan proposes to designate 1,632 miles of routes open to different types of travel within the planning area, 675 miles of which are to be designated as open to motorized vehicles. That would be a reduction from the current allowance of 950 miles for motorized travel.

The new management is to expand areas open to “mechanized” travel, or mountain biking as well as travel by horse or by foot. The new rules would establish 587 miles for mountain bikers, horse and foot travel, an increase from the existing 357 miles of routes open to non-motorized users.

In addition, 50 miles of routes listed in the proposed management plan are scheduled to be “decommissioned,” or closed to traffic of all types, and 320 miles of routes are to be designated as “administrative,” meaning they are for use only by federal officials, ranchers, oil and gas interests and others — but are not to be open to the general public under normal circumstances.

The smallest component of travel access in the plan, the only area restricted to “foot travel” only, is a two-mile memorial trail for 14 firefighters killed on Storm King Mountain during the 1994 South Canyon wildfire near Glenwood Springs.

Within the Roaring Fork Valley, areas that have generated considerable public interest are Thompson Creek, a large region west of Carbondale; and The Crown, comprising 9,100 acres southeast of Carbondale.

In the Thompson Creek area, the proposed management plan calls for formalization of the Lorax Trail, a long north-south mountain biking route along the east side of a ridge adjacent to the Thompson Creek Road that was created by users perhaps five or six years ago.

Motorized travel is permitted on an existing loop road that parallels the Lorax Trail for a short distance and connects to the Tall Pines Trail near where it crosses Thompson Creek itself, and on other established roads in the area.

At The Crown, motorized dirt bikers and other motorized vehicles are permitted to travel on existing ranch roads and on a loop trail on the western side of the area, as well as a route on the northern side of the ridge leading down toward the Roaring Fork River and the El Jebel area. Beyond that, the area is reserved primarily for mountain biking, with trails designated for hiking and equestrian travel in limited locations.

At the lower end of West Sopris Creek Road, there also are mountain biking trails to the south of the road, motorized access on existing BLM dirt roads and a foot/horse trail where the southern BLM boundary meets the U.S. Forest Service lands surrounding Mount Sopris.

Copies of the Colorado River Valley Field Office Resource Management Planare available either on paper or in digital format at the BLM’s office east of Silt, at 2300 River Frontage Road.

Editor’s note:
Aspen Journalism’s Land Desk collaborated with The Aspen Times on this article. The Times published the story on Monday, April 21, 2014.