White River National Forest releases road, trail plan

After a process dating back formally to 2002 and informally to 1997, the White River National Forest on Wednesday released a plan for managing motorized and other year-round travel.

“It’s time to stop the paperwork and start the on-the-ground work,” forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams declared during a teleconference with reporters.

The plan would close 519 miles of roads and trails that previously were part of the forest system, although work already was under way to close 178 of those miles.

It would close 692 miles of other routes that never had been officially part of the system but came to exist because of mining, logging, recreational uses or other reasons. But it will allow another 225 miles of such routes to be added to the system.

Fitzwilliams’ decision is subject to a 45-day appeals period.

The Forest Service began work on the plan as part of a rewrite of the overall White River resource-management plan, but later it delayed the travel plan because of the challenges of doing both at once. Work was delayed further in order to comply with a 2005 national Forest Service travel-management rule.

The travel plan at first glance “appears to achieve an important balance between providing plentiful access to the forest and protecting the superlative qualities that make the WRNF the most visited in the nation,” said Sloan Shoemaker of the Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale in a news release. “However, the plan continues to contain some significant shortcomings that concern us.”

Shoemaker fears that authorizing 225 miles of what he called “bandit routes” encourages illegal route development. Forest officials say not all of the 225 miles were illegally created.

Aaron Clarke of the Southern Rockies Conservation Alliance said he is concerned the plan retains a 600-foot travel buffer along nearly all roads for dispersed camping, which would lead to new routes being created.

Don Riggle, founder of the Trails Preservation Alliance, an advocate for motorized single-track access, said there is now a distinct lack of motorized access to the forest, and he will need to see how the new plan addresses that. But he said the White River forest staff has moved away from a past bias against motorized use.

“I think the current staff understands that that’s public property, and the public has a right of access to it, instead of locking everything up,” he said.

For information visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver.


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