Our View: Buffalo Pass too popular? | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Buffalo Pass too popular?

At issue: It’s a challenge for the Routt National Forest to accommodate the increasing number of winter recreation enthusiasts who carve up the precious powder on Buffalo Pass

Our view: The only way to preserve the quality of the Buffalo Pass experience may be to limit the number of participants on winter weekends

Editorial Board

• Suzanne Schlicht, COO and publisher

• Lisa Schlichtman, editor

• Tom Ross, reporter

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com.

Buffalo Pass is one of a relative handful of places in the Colorado Rockies where the general public can drive 15 minutes outside a major resort town, unload a couple of snowmobiles and use them as shuttles to access seemingly endless powder skiing runs.

However, the popularity of Buffalo Pass, in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest outside of Steamboat Springs has resulted in management headaches for local U.S. Forest Service officials in the form of vehicles overflowing a substantial parking lot.

We understand there are snowmobilers who do not pair that sport with skis. Just as there are skiers who don’t take part in motorized recreation, who also enjoy the snow on Buffalo Pass. But we are under the impression it was the advent of powerful sleds that can carry three adults and a ski rack that was the game-changer on Buffalo Pass.

There is no doubt that it’s an exhilarating experience for three friends to take turns driving the snowmobile, allowing the other two to ski untracked powder, run after run.

Some people may not realize that before the late Jupiter Jones and his wife, Barbara, gained a Forest Service permit in 1983, to operate commercial snowcat skiing on Buff Pass, that it was practical for the rest of the public to tag along.

Before the commercial snowcat operation began packing down the snow on the forest road, and numerous tracks leading to other skiing pitches, very few skiers and snowmobilers could access the terrain. After all, most years, the snow on Buff Pass is the deepest in Colorado.

We admire the outlook of Hahns Peak District Ranger Chad Steward who told Routt County Board of Commissioners this week, “Philosophically, I don’t like to limit access to public lands.” Stewart has proven himself to have the skills and personality to work through problems on the National Forest, and we have faith in his judgment.

But we would note that there is ample precedent for limiting public use of public lands, not just in national parks, but in popular Forest Service areas. Currently, there is a fee to park in the lot at heavily used Fish Creek Falls, and nobody thinks twice about paying to camp in a National Forest campground. And when the campground is full over the Fourth of July weekend, people have to look elsewhere.

A better analogy might be the way the National Park Service conducts annual lotteries to issue a finite number of public permits for people who wish to take multi-day float trips down wild rivers like the Yampa and the Green in Dinosaur National Monument.

Those limitations protect the resource, while assuring something close to a wilderness experience in the river canyons.

Stewart described to the Routt County commissioners this week, the growing challenges of managing parking snarls at the base of the pass, caused by the number of trucks hauling snowmobiles in trailers that seem to get larger every year.

Routt County Commissioners Cari Hermacinski and Tim Corrigan empathized.

“I don’t have an interest in going up to Buffalo Pass during the winter any more,” Hermacinski said. “It gives me hives just thinking about it.”

Currently, the Forest Service seeks to educate winter recreationists on Buffalo Pass with a system of free permit cards that have the rules of using the area printed on the back. People can get a free laminated season pass at the Forest Service office at 925 Weiss Drive, or a daily pass on the board in the packed parking lot at the foot of the pass.

The season on Buffalo Pass formally ends this weekend. We would be supportive if, in the future, the Forest Service used some form of lottery system (exclusive of the permitted commercial operator) to manage the volume of public recreation and impacts on the pass, on busy winter weekends and holidays.

That’s our idea for solving this issue. What’s yours?

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