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County ducks the fray

Commissioners won;t get involved in winter recreation debate

Susan Cunningham

— The U.S. Forest Service’s plan to manage winter recreation on Buffalo Pass and Rabbit Ears Pass does not go far enough to “balance the playing field” between motorized and nonmotorized users.

That was the message the Routt County Board of Commissioners heard from representatives of the Friends of Routt Backcountry, which supports nonmotorized recreation, at a meeting Monday.

Jim Linville and other representatives of the organization asked county commissioners to support a different alternative from the proposal the U.S. Forest Service has recommended. The alternative that Friends of Routt Backcountry prefers would provide more non-motorized acres, most notably in the Buffalo Pass area.

The alternative the U.S. Forest Service is proposing makes official the splits between motorized and non-motorized uses that have been suggested on the two passes for the past few years, with some other modifications.

Routt County commissioners said they would not write a letter of support for a certain alternative.

“No. 1 … we do not have the authority, and No. 2, I do not feel it’s appropriate for us to do that,” Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

Routt County Planner Chad Phillips said the county sent the Forest Service a letter in May saying that as far as the county’s master plan is concerned, there is no difference in the five alternative plans proposed for each area. County policies that take stands on how public land should be managed are not in the master plan, he said.

Less than one week is left for the public to comment on the Forest Service’s preferred alternative for managing winter recreation on Buffalo Pass and Rabbit Ears Pass. The Forest Service expects to make a final decision this fall.

Friends of Routt Backcountry presented a similar request for a letter supporting their preferred alternative to the Steamboat Springs City Council last week. The City Council decided to draft a letter for future review, encouraging an extension of the Forest Service public comment period.

Backcountry skiers should have just as much of a chance at enjoying fresh powder and a scenic outdoors experience as the faster moving snowmobiles, representatives of the group said.

Several snowmobilers present at the meeting spoke about the issue as well, including Bob Mayfield of Routt Powder Riders, who said he did not feel the county should support a larger area of restricted motorized uses as the national forest belongs to everyone and all users.

A growing number of visitors to the area mean everyone has to be ready for change, he said.

“You are not going to have the same experience you did 20 years ago,” Mayfield said. “Nobody is.”

The draft report is available at http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/mbr/projects/rec, and paper copies are available at local libraries or on CD-ROM disks.

— To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com


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