This summer, Summit County Off-Road Riders will start construction on motorcycle trails the group has long fought for.
“We’re excited to be able to move forward,” said Chuck Ginsburg, chairman of the group, which is known as SCORR. “It’s been 11 years or something since we started working on this project.”
In February, Forest Service officials gave the final OK on a proposal to build a 21-mile single-track trail system on Tenderfoot Mountain above the motocross track between Dillon and Keystone. The project includes 13 miles of new trail construction and about 8 miles of reconstructed user-created trails. Other user-created trails will be closed and rehabilitated.
Officials also approved several miles of trail reroutes in Golden Horseshoe.
“We’ve done a lot of work to get to this point,” said Ginsburg, 55, who said SCORR has about 130 paying members and an email list with more than 400 people. “Now it’s kind of a monumental task to get it all done.”
Both projects will take three or four years to complete.
After decades of work, “what we just ended up with is a huge victory for us,” said Tim Nixon, 54, a Frisco video producer who co-founded the group in the 1990s and maintains its website. “It’s just a beautiful thing.”
Ginsburg said motorcyclists have struggled to find trails to ride as nationally more trails have been closed to them over the last few decades.
“Our user group is growing just like everything else,” Nixon said. Motorcyclists often get bad reputations, he said, but SCORR members love the backcountry.
“We’re not Harley riders in black leather jackets throwing wild parties. That’s not us,” he said. “We are hikers. We do mountain bike, we do ski. We do it all.”
But, he said, some people need motorcycles or ATVs to access and enjoy public lands.
“When I was 20 years old, I mountain biked all this stuff. Now I’m 50 years old, and I’ve got a bad knee,” he said. “We all can’t be that 20-year-old rock star anymore.”
The group’s low point came two or three years ago when the Forest Service transitioned trails in the Dillon Ranger District used by motorcyclists from a free-for-all to a managed system. Ginsburg said more than 100 miles of trails motorcyclists had used for decades were cut to about 6.
“The more we get limited, it sort of is a self-perpetuating problem” he said, because bad apples are tempted to do things they shouldn’t, like riding off trail. Nixon said limited mileage for riders causes more accidents.
Opponents of the trail system feared increased noise for local homeowners, ecosystem impacts and trails becoming a draw for riders outside Summit County.
In 2013, a task force of 21 people met for five five-hour sessions and hashed out compromises in a process modeled after stakeholder meetings held during the Peak 6 project.
“It wasn’t easy,” said County Commissioner Thomas Davidson, who represented the county. “Every single different group walked away with not exactly what they wanted.”
Concerns were met with an array of solutions.
“They’re trying to be very good stewards of the land,” said Scott Fussell, program manager of Friends of the Dillon Ranger District.
Bike noise would be limited to 96 decibels, which Ginsburg said is about the volume of people talking in a crowded room. Actively maintained trails would be open to riders for only a few months of the year during certain hours of the day. And the proposed 36 miles were cut to 21.
That’s not enough miles to ride for more than a few hours, Ginsburg said, so trails shouldn’t attract visitors.
His group also agreed to create a trail ambassador program, with riders patrolling the area and educating their peers.
“We’ve listened to the community. The community has listened to us,” Nixon said. Now “we have to be the good guys out there.”
The project also includes an adaptive management plan, modeled after the one used in the Ophir Mountain project, which will trigger certain actions, like increased patrols, if riders aren’t obeying the rules.
“If this goes wrong here, we’ve already thought of some solutions,” said Jim Curnutte, county community development director. “That’s the success story of that effort.”
Now “as things start to happen out there, we all have to pay attention,” Davidson said. “As leaders of these different groups, we have to show up and tell the different people that are playing on the mountain that we all need to get along together.”
People may still have concerns, said Ken Waugh with the Dillon Ranger District, but Forest Service officials feel they’ve done everything they possibly can.
He said White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said the Tenderfoot trail system received more planning than any other trail system ever in the White River.
To help finance the first phase of the projects, the Dillon Ranger District secured two grants from the Colorado State Parks OHV Fund. Both grants cover visitor education and safety contacts, patrols and enforcement.
The $87,500 grant for Tenderfoot will fund 6 miles of new trail construction, reroutes and decommissioning of 1 mile of unauthorized trail. The Golden Horseshoe $100,400 grant will fund rerouting of about 3 miles of trails into 5 miles of new trail, decommissioning of about 2 miles of trail and purchase of a mini-excavator to help with trail projects.
At volunteer days, SCORR will have a sound-testing device available so riders can make sure their bikes are legal. Nixon said the group will probably work for four to six hours and then ride together. The group wants people to come out especially for the July 12 volunteer day.
“We’re not Harley riders in black leather jackets throwing wild parties. That’s not us.”
Co-founder of SCORR