Tom Scilacci is a smart guy. In his backcountry adventures, he has crossed paths with more people than he’d like to see — skiers and snowmobilers alike — and the number is only increasing. Rather than dig in, get mad, and pine for the good old days, he is trying to adapt.
“People just need to be the first to smile and wave,” he said. “If you get really sweet turns and all you’re caught up in is the fact you saw a snowmobile, you’re out there for the wrong reasons.”
Hopefully, his attitude is one shared by other backcountry users, people who would rather be courteous and continue on their respective ways than grimace at a stranger and agree with each other that “their” territory must be protected.
The Routt National Forest has plenty of space for everybody, even with the growing number of people choosing it as a recreation spot. And, because public land is just that — public — a snowmobiler from Michigan is no more or less deserving of it than a Steamboat native who knows every unmarked trail from Walton Peak to the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.
But when people are forced to share treasured spots they’ve long visited to get away from it all, seeing things quite so diplomatically is sometimes difficult. Emotions run high and “compromise” becomes a much-spoken, little-meant word.
As the U.S. Forest Service continues the unenviable task of planning and designating winter recreation areas, there is at least one thing it can do to help lessen some of the tensions: Because people on all sides already feel like they are losing so much, guarantee them, once the current set of revisions is completed, that they won’t lose any more in the immediate future. Give them a five-, 10- or 15-year promise not to further revise boundaries, barring unforeseen circumstances.
Whether caused by misunderstanding of a master process to tweak usage areas over time, or sage recognition of a trend away from motorized use, snowmobilers are increasingly prone to taking the hard line on use-area boundaries, not necessarily because a specific area is so important to them, but because they are worried any concession will send them further down a slippery slope.
In the meantime, backcountry users would be well-advised to get to know each other as more than us and them.
The cooperative efforts of skiers and snowmobilers to work on boundaries and inform the public of those boundaries together has led to greater — although not perfect — compliance with suggested-use areas. Continued cooperation and mutual understanding can only continue to help.
Skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers can get along at work; they should be able to get along at play as well. They share at least one thing in common — a love of the great outdoors.
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