Trail closures announced as winter season looms |

Trail closures announced as winter season looms

A herd of elk walk through a damp field south of Steamboat Springs. l Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Though snow has not yet blanketed the ground, several trails throughout Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest are closed for the winter season to allow big game to graze and hibernate without interruption from humans recreating in the area.

“Respecting winter closure areas allows our vulnerable deer and elk herds on the Routt National Forest to survive and prosper into the next year. In partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, we’ve identified areas critical for wildlife while maintaining public access for winter recreation on the Forest,” said Hahns Peak/Bears Ears District Ranger Michael Woodbridge.

“Public cooperation is the key to ensuring effective closure,” Woodbridge added. Sharing information among the community and with out-of-area visitors will help us maintain the balance of wildlife and people that we strive for here in the Yampa Valley.”

Mandatory closures include Spring Creek Trail 1160, Spring Creek Alternate Trail 1160.1A, Mad Creek Road 128, Mad Creek Trail 1100 (Swamp Park Trail), Red Dirt Trail 1171, Hot Springs Trail 1169 and the foothills south of Steamboat Resort to U.S. Highway 40.

Voluntary closures include Greenville Mine area Forest Roads 440 and 441, Coulton Creek Trail 1188, Lower Bear Trail 1206, Sarvis Creek Trail 1105, Silver Creek Trail 1106, areas adjacent to the Radium and Indian Run state wildlife areas on Forest Roads 212 and 214 and the area north of Toponas off Forest Road 285.

Voos said the voluntary closure status should be seen as a strong encouragement, while the mandatory closures can result in a fine for those who ignore the rules and choose to use the trails during the closure time, which lasts from Dec. 1 to April 15, 2022.

Because the Forest Service works hard to protect federal forest land from development, Voos said they do not like to limit recreational activity but feel the closures are necessary to protect a vulnerable species easily impacted by human activity.

“If at all possible, we don’t like to put things in place on the National Forest that limit what can occur,” Voos said. “The more uses of the National Forest the better, but we were asking people to voluntarily change what they were doing, and that just wasn’t working.”

As for enforcement of the closures, Voos said the Forest Service has a mix of enforcement tactics available for its usage, which include having rangers staffed on forest land to enforce the rules in real-time, as well as complaints from members of the public who observe violations.

Ultimately, Voos said he hopes forest users will respect the closures because they understand their purpose without fear of a penalty from law enforcement.

“It’s kind of like how law enforcement approaches anything else,” Voos said. “Sometimes, you see a police officer on the street checking your speed; sometimes, you don’t. Same thing with our law enforcement. We do rely a good bit on our partners to let us know where we have issues, so that we can then focus our law enforcement where it is needed.”

Larry Desjardin, president of wildlife advocacy group Keep Routt Wild, said the closures are placed in winter because elk spend the spring and summer at higher altitude consuming enough calories to last them several months. As the winter months arrive, elk migrate to lower elevation and expend the calories they consumed during the summer.

Because elk are eating little to nothing during the winter, Desjardin said following closures is vital, as any human activity can scare an elk and force it to expend more energy than necessary to hide from recreationists.

“It’s kind of a really tough time for them, so you’re trying to minimize the time that they have to output extraordinary calories,” Desjardin said. “They bulk up all of these calories, particularly in summer, and then they need to have at least 9% body fat stored to survive winter.”

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