Mad Rabbit Proposal 3.0: Forest Service accepting comment on new proposal for developing Rabbit Ears Pass trails | SteamboatToday.com

Mad Rabbit Proposal 3.0: Forest Service accepting comment on new proposal for developing Rabbit Ears Pass trails

Ahead of formal review, the U.S. Forest Service has issued a preliminary proposal. Many proposed trails in the Mad Creek area have been removed from the latest proposal.

A mountain biker ascends Flash of Gold during the Town Challenge at Buffalo Pass on Wednesday, July 17. Original Mad Rabbit Trails proposals would’ve seen new trails connecting Mad Creek to Buffalo and Rabbit Ears Pass. The latest preliminary proposal focuses trail building on Rabbit Ears Pass.
Shelby Reardon

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The latest preliminary proposal in the U.S. Forest Service’s Mad Rabbit Trails project would see about 51 miles of new trails built, about 20 miles of unsanctioned, user-created trails renaturalized into the forest and additional infrastructure at several area trailheads. 

The Forest Service released this preliminary proposal ahead of a formal proposal that will be reviewed under the National Environmental Policy Act process. Comments on this preliminary proposal will be incorporated into a formal draft proposal, which will begin to undergo NEPA review later this year.

This preliminary proposal contains fewer trails than in initial Forest Service and Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance proposals. Much of the trail development would be on Rabbit Ears Pass, with three more trails proposed in the area of Fish Creek and Long Lake.

“We had some opportunities to gather additional input through the Mad Rabbit group,” Hahns Peak/Bears Ears District Ranger Tara Umphries said, referring to the Routt Recreation Roundtable. “The new proposal is mostly based on some additional research on our end regarding our Land Resource Management Plan, as well as stakeholder and partner input and trying to be aligned with those shared goals.”

The Forest Service is seeking public comment on the preliminary proposal, which will be most useful if received by Aug. 15. There will be another opportunity to submit public comment when the Forest Service releases a draft environmental assessment, Umphries said.

“For this particular round of comments for the Mad Rabbit Trails project preliminary proposal, we’re mostly seeking new information that we haven’t heard before, although we are interested in hearing all comments,” she said.  

What’s new in this preliminary proposal?

Most of the proposed trails are in the area of U.S. Highway 40 on Rabbit Ears Pass, “creating both short and longer trail opportunities for varying abilities and uses, with connections to the Buffalo Pass area,” according to a letter to users attached to the preliminary proposal.

The Forest Service determined that a high-density trail system in the Ferndale area would not be consistent with the agency’s forest planning documents, Forest Service trail standards and retention of the roadless character of the area, according to the letter.

“We really like what they’ve offered up for the Rabbit Ears West Summit area,” said Routt County Riders President Kyle Pietras, who added that his organization felt these trails were more important than trails in the Gunn Creek area, which were eliminated in the preliminary proposal. “There’s definitely some trails missing, but what they have put in there really does a nice job. It’s a viable amount of trails, and it introduces new loops (and) new downhill-specific trails, and it definitely offers a bunch of cross-country and out-there, adventure-in-the-backcountry type riding.”  

Several proposed trails in the Mad Creek area do not appear on the preliminary proposal. In fact, many existing trails created by users will be rehabilitated to a natural state. In the letter, Umphries wrote this was to protect resources and improve wildlife habitat, and the Routt Recreation Roundtable had come to a consensus that adverse impacts to the area, such as traffic impacts, should be limited.

Pietras joked that with trails in the Mad Creek area removed, the project doesn’t need to be called Mad Rabbit anymore.

Weigh in

There are two receommended ways to submit public comment:

The preliminary proposal and supporting documents can be reviewed at: fs.usda.gov/project/?project=50917.

Feedback is most useful if concisely stated, directly related to the project and includes supporting reasons for suggestions. Input would be most helpful in development of the proposal if received by Aug. 15. Additionally, an official comment period will occur during the National Environmental Policy Act process.

“It could just be called Rabbit because the whole Mad Rabbit was having a connection between Mad Creek and Buff (Pass) all the way to Rabbit Ears, and that’s not occurring,” he said.

“We compromised. We work with the Forest Service and (Colorado Parks and Wildlife), and they’re the ones we look to for all the answers of where we can put trails,” Pietras said. He also said, though users would lose longtime trails proposed for renaturalization, it’s for the health of the forest.

While he’s got a different opinion on the Mad Creek trails, Keep Routt Wild President Larry Desjardin said his organization would “seek common ground where we can avoid impact to wildlife and wild places.”

Keep Routt Wild plans to analyze the proposal and cumulative impacts to wildlife, and he said the group would want to deliberate before commenting on trails in the preliminary proposal, he said.  

“Nevertheless, we would like to thank the U.S. Forest Service for listening to the community’s concerns and removing some of the worst trails from the proposal,” Desjardin said. “Specifically, there are no trails now being proposed in the Hot Springs/Mad Creek area.”

He said the group liked the idea of returning some unsanctioned trails to their natural state.

“We like that idea and believe that’s the proper way to treat illegal trails — removing them and not legitimizing them through legalization,” he said.

The preliminary proposal also calls for seasonal trail closures on some trails, additional infrastructure, such as information kiosks and bathrooms at several trailheads, and additional special-use permits to allow shuttles to certain trailheads and guiding on area trails.

Routt County Riders and Keep Routt Wild have been two stakeholder groups that have been vocal as the Mad Rabbit project developed, though many more have been involved in providing input. Initial discussions on the Mad Rabbit Trail proposal have evolved into the Routt Recreation Roundtable, a group of 20 community members interested in recreation within the county.

Roundtable members have been selected, and the Roundtable will convene in August to determine an action plan for the group in the coming year, said Matt Mulica, a senior project manager at Keystone Policy Center who has been facilitating the group.

What’s in the proposal?

  • 36 miles of new nonmotorized trails.
  • Improving 2 miles of user-created trails.
  • Improve and designate old U.S. Highway 40 as a nonmotorized trail.
  • 5 miles of new off-highway vehicle and multiuse trails.
  • Remove and renaturalize about 20 miles of user-created trails.
  • Begin issuing commercial special use permits to provide shuttles to trailheads to reduce traffic and congestion serving Mad Creek, Lower Bear, Dry Lake, Buffalo Pass, the West Summit of Rabbit Ears Pass, Dumont Lake and Muddy Creek.
  • Begin issuing commercial special use permits to outfit and guide trail users and to hold recreation events on trails, establishing areas where they are allowed and thresholds for use.
  • Implement seasonal restrictions on certain trails to prevent harm to wildlife in critical times and protect trails from erosion and other resources.

In the Long Lake area:

  • A new trail connecting the Fish Creek Falls trail to Steamboat Resort, a new trail linking the Continental Divide Trail to Trail 1032 south of Long Lake, and a new trail linking the Continental Divide Trail southwest of Long Lake to Rabbit Ears Peak.

In the Mad Creek area:

  • Remove Hot Springs Trailhead. The Forest Service and Strawberry Park Hot Springs would work together to install signage to direct visitors to the Lower Bear Trailhead. The Hot Springs Trail will still be accessible via the Mad Creek Trailhead.
  • The Lower Bear Trailhead would see a restroom installed and improvements to increase capacity and improve traffic flow.
  • Remove and renaturalize about 20 miles of user-created trails in the Mad and Gunn Creek area.

In the Rabbit Ears area:

  • Ferndale Day Use Area would be reopened as a summer trailhead with the addition of a restroom and information kiosk. The loop road would be reconfigured into a parking area. The Forest Service would start collecting a daily use fee at Ferndale.
  • A parking area at Forest Service Road 296.1 would be a year-round trailhead with a restroom and information kiosk.
  • The pull off at Forest Service Road 299, Old Highway 40, would become a summer trailhead.
  • Bruce’s Trail, Fox Curve, the Dumont Lake and Muddy Creek trailheads would become year-round trailheads.
  • The parking area where users currently park to use the trail up to Rabbit Ears Peak would be a designated summer trailhead with restrooms and an information kiosk. The 0.02-mile section of user-created trail up to Rabbit Ears Peak would be established at a sanctioned Forest Service trail.
  • The Grizzly-Helena trail would be established as a motorized trail for summer use.
  • Several trails running more or less parallel to U.S. Highway 40 from Ferndale to Dumont Lake will be built.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email ehasenbeck@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.


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