Keep Routt Wild submits proposal to refine Mad Rabbit Trails project
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Local environmental nonprofit Keep Routt Wild has submitted a proposal to the U.S. Forest Service asking it refine details in the Mad Rabbit Trails project.
The proposal asks the Forest Service for three points that Keep Routt Wild President Larry Desjardin said are critical to the success of the project, which will create a series of new motorized and non-motorized trails along Rabbit Ears Pass.
The first point is for a change to the project’s stated purpose, “to provide trail-based recreation opportunities consistent with the protection and conservation of natural resources and retention of the roadless character of protected areas.” It was important for the group to have highlighted in the project’s purpose that it’s about avoiding and minimizing any impact to the surrounding natural resources.
Keep Routt Wild also is requesting the project be completed in phases so that, after each trail is constructed, experts can study its impacts. The group also has asked for the creation of an outlined recreation plan to ensure recreators do not interfere with elk in the area.
“The best scenario for the Mad Creek to Rabbit Ears trail proposal is to try to find a place where we can balance the needs of humanity with the needs of wildlife,” said Kris Middledorf, Colorado Parks and Wildlife manager for the Routt County area. “We don’t want the animals to be running away from those areas, and it’s important to minimize human disturbance.”
Middledorf and Desjardin said the Forest Service has several options for minimizing human impact in the Mad Rabbit project area, which have included placing gates around areas where elk give birth, though Desjardin said that approach tends to be ineffective.
“It’s always better than nothing, but it’s really a halfway option,” Desjardin said, adding that recreators can climb around a gate. “It’s really hard to enforce these closures, and in general, it’s just better to avoid calving areas.”
Middledorf said there may not be a perfect solution, but the most ideal situation would be to construct trails outside of elk habitat, which is “easier said than done,” he said.
“We need to look at a landscape level and the impacts of human disturbances and look at where it’s responsible to build trails to minimize impacts to wildlife,” Middledorf said. “We want to make sure the trails we do build are sustainable and provide a premier outdoor experience for our public.”
In addition to adding more trails on Rabbit Ears Pass, Desjardin encouraged trail planners to design trails on areas that are already heavily trafficked, such as on Emerald Mountain.
“Those areas are already so disturbed, and it’s not a fresh new impact that’s going to harm a new sensitive area or a migration route,” Desjardin said. “We want to prevent these trails from fragmenting the current habitat areas.”
Middledorf said as Colorado continues to grow and Steamboat continues to receive more visitors — most of whom are looking for outdoor recreation opportunities — the Forest Service will have to continue to be more vigilant of building trails that do not disturb elk.
“We need to work together as a community to find the best way to balance the needs of people and the needs of our animals,” Middledorf said. “The one thing we all have in common is we all enjoy being in the outdoors, and we all want to do our best to conserve our natural resources.”
The Forest Service is scheduled to meet with the accommodations tax trails steering committee Feb. 10 to discuss the future of the Mad Rabbit project. Members of the public interested in sharing questions or concerns may join the virtual meeting at us02web.zoom.us/j/82682742929.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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