Proposal would reconstruct Buffalo Pass Road, allow Forest Service to rehab some dispersed campsites | SteamboatToday.com

Proposal would reconstruct Buffalo Pass Road, allow Forest Service to rehab some dispersed campsites

Under the proposal the road would be resurfaced, and some dispersed campsites could be naturalized

Water trickles down Buffalo Pass Road in Routt National Forest north of Steamboat Springs. The U.S. Forest Service has proposed resurfacing this stretch of road.
Courtesy Routt National Forest

­­STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s not uncommon to find a bumpy ride on Routt County’s gravel roads, but one of those backcountry rollercoasters might be tamed next summer.

The U.S. Forest Service recently released a proposal to reconstruct a 7.6-mile portion of Buffalo Pass Road, Forest Road 60, from Dry Lake to Summit Lake.

The project, if approved as proposed, would add signs to areas where there are hazards in the road, improve drainage in the road, smooth the surface, establish turnouts in single-lane sections of the road and widen the larger sections of the road into a true double-lane road. It would also allow the Forest Service to renaturalize dispersed campsites that are too close to streams and wetlands.

“Right now, it’s a road that doesn’t have a lot of engineering features to accommodate the use it gets or that is desired,” said Routt National Forest spokesperson Aaron Voos. “That’s a lot of it. … It’s really just basic road maintenance and addressing resource issues.”

That includes resurfacing the road, improving culverts and access to key areas and changes to the width of the road in some places.

Voos also said the road is categorized as a level three road, which means the Forest Service maintains it to be traveled “by a prudent driver in a standard passenger car.” That maintenance level calls for more frequent maintenance than a level two road, which is maintained for safe passage for four-wheel-drive vehicles.

According to the Forest Service’s notice of proposed action, the current state of Buffalo Pass Road results in sediment running off the road into nearby streams, which lowers water quality and degrades aquatic habitat. It makes it harder for crews to maintain reservoirs that house city drinking water, and it might impact emergency access in case of wildfire and other emergencies.

Voos said this section was targeted for the project because it hasn’t seen maintenance within the past decade, while other parts of Buffalo Pass Road have.

At a glance

For more information about the project, visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=56746. Questions can be directed to project leader Rick Henderson at 970-870-2299 or rick.henderson@usda.gov.
• Comments can be submitted via email to: comments-rm-medicine-bow-routt-hahns-peak-bears-ears@usda.gov with “Buffalo Pass Road Reconstruction Project” in the subject line.
• Comments can be submitted by mail or hand delivery to: Hahns Peak Bears Ears Ranger District
Attention: Buffalo Pass Road Reconstruction Project
925 Weiss Drive
Steamboat Springs, CO 80487

• The U.S. Forest Service will accept public comments on the proposal until Oct. 18 as part of the National Environmental Policy Act process.
• The Forest Service anticipates completing an environmental assessment on the project. There will not be another formal opportunity for public comments on this proposed project. Only those who submit timely and specific written comments will have eligibility to file an objection.

Another element of the proposal would allow the Forest Service to disturb the ground to restore dispersed campsites to their natural state on Buffalo Pass. Right now, the Forest Service can close campsites that are closer than 100-feet to a waterway, when unacceptable damage to the environment is occurring or spots aren’t in line with the agency’s management plan for the area, but Voos said a closure just means a sign goes up asking users not to camp there.

“There are more and more dispersed sites popping up all over the place, which is okay until we get some sort of management plan in place for the corridor, but up until that point, if one of them is too close to the watershed, there’s erosion, and there are human waste issues,” he said.

This proposal would allow the Forest Service authority to disturb the soil and revegetate some campsites to a natural state. That authority would apply only to campsites that meet certain conditions listed above within a 9-mile stretch of Buffalo Pass Road from the Dry Lake Campground to 1.5 miles past the Summit Lake Campground.

“It’s a long-overdue project, and it should end up providing a lot of benefit,” Voos said, though he acknowledged a better road could lead to more use of the area, which could push the Forest Service to do more analysis on recreation use on Buffalo Pass.

This map shows the proposed extent of road reconstruction along Buffalo Pass Road, with delineation of the additional 1.5 miles of the corridor where dispersed campsites would be restored to a natural state if they do not conform to the Forest Service management plans. Mileages are approximate.
Courtesy Routt National Forest

Eventually, the Forest Service wants to update its management plan to address increasing recreation on Buffalo Pass, he said. Voos said updating management plans for Buffalo Pass is on the Forest Service’s radar, though the agency doesn’t have a schedule in place for it. 

The proposal is currently undergoing National Environmental Policy Act review. If the agency has a decision in place by Spring 2020, construction on the road could take place next summer.

The Forest Service will accept public comment on the proposal until Oct. 18. Voos said the most helpful comments are those that address specific elements of the project, not just comments of general support.

“Even though we’re glad they’re supporting it, that that doesn’t really help us change the project, so if adjustments need to be made, we need specific comments that can help us make those adjustments and make the project better,” Voos said.

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


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