All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) buffs and jeep enthusiasts may find their future treks inside the Pike and San Isabel Forest, and especially in rural Teller, Douglas and Park counties, greatly restricted within the next few years.
In fact, they may want to rev up their quad bikes for a few more political rides by contacting their elected leaders and key representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, with the possible closure of 500 miles of roads, trails and four-wheel drive routes for motorized vehicles.
However, at the same time, the feds are contemplating a wide range of alternatives for motorized routes within the forests, including one management plan that calls for improving and expanding certain roads.
At issue is the fate of 2,004 miles of Forest Service roads and 507 miles of trails located in the Pike and San Isabel Forest areas.
Last week, Teller County Commissioner Marc Dettenrieder delivered a mixture of good and bad news for ATV and outdoor recreation advocates regarding the future of motorized travel inside local and regional forest areas. As part of a settlement agreement with the Wilderness Society, Quiet Use Coalition, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and other related groups, a detailed road and trail environmental impact statement, with four proposed options, will be finalized by 2019. This action will play a big role in determining future road closures, improvements and consolidated routes in forest areas in Teller, Park and Douglas counties.
These solutions, which won’t go into effect for several years, range from no changes whatsoever or few alterations, to the closure of hundreds of miles of roads and back routes used by motorized vehicles, to plans for improving the current network of forest service roadway for safety purposes.
“The public should have access to public lands,” said Dettenrieder, at last week’s commissioners meeting in announcing his support for Alternative D, calling for improving and in some cases, expanding the current network of forest service roads for motorized travel.
Moreover, he cited the importance of this public access issue for the benefit of local tourism and recreation in the region. The commissioner is a firm believer in the rights of individuals to enjoy these routes, whether on foot, by bike, or by a motorized vehicle.
However, that said, he believes the Teller commissioners and key leaders can live with most plans outlined by the feds, except for Alternative B, which calls for significant closures. This is the plan supported by the Wilderness Society and other environmental groups. Under this plan, at least 500 miles of roads and trails, identified by the Wilderness Society in an earlier lawsuit, would get closed.
According to Dettenrieder, this could impact popular forest service areas near Rainbow Falls off Hwy. 67 and parts outside Divide. “That is totally unacceptable. It is extreme,” said the board vice-chairman, who is closely monitoring the issue.
However, Dettenrieder is the first to admit that the motorized vehicle management plan mulled by the U.S. Forest Service won’t occur overnight. But he wants to keep the issue at the forefront. “We heard a lot about this (road closure) plan previously, but it hasn’t really received too much attention until recently,” related the commissioner.
The public comment process for the four proposed alternatives ended last week, following a series of public meetings. Now, a draft environmental impact statement is scheduled for completion for the spring of 2018.
Regardless of the conflicting opinions, many experts agree that a better management plan is needed regarding motor vehicle use in the Pike and San Isabel forest areas. According to the U.S. Forest Service, some of the key issues deal with resource management, safety concerns and the” potential lost opportunities,” if certain routes are shut down.
For more information regarding the travel management plan under consideration by the U.S. Forest Service, and the overall process, call John Dow, Forest Service Planner at 719-553-1476.
In other county government updates, Teller may reap significant financial benefits, resulting from the legal mitigation surrounding a highly publicized lawsuit and settlement against the Volkswagen company.
At last week’s commissioners meeting, Administrator Sheryl Decker estimated that the county could receive financial benefits equivalent to approximately $360,000 in value. But that won’t come in the form of a check to the government.
Instead, these financial benefits will go towards assisting certain transportation-related services, such as Ramblin’ Express or senior transportation, and may involve the funding of new vehicles. County officials say more details could be released in the future regarding the specifics of the settlement for governments and individuals who have sought compensation.
The lawsuit stems from claims that the company equipped more than 500,000 vehicles with faulty software to cheat on emission tests, resulting in violations of the Clean Air Act. The price tag for this suit is estimated in the billions.