Group fights for its right to ride at Tenderfoot
December 8, 2012
“We’re a group that wants to ride,” said Mike Stoveken, the owner of Silverthorne Power Sports and a member of Summit County Off-Road Riders.
Stoveken was among dozens of motor sports enthusiasts who packed Dillon Town Hall on Thursday to rev their engines and voice their support of a controversial plan to build a 21-mile singletrack system for motorized use at Tenderfoot Mountain.
One after another, the members of the audience sporting biker jerseys stepped up to the microphone at the Snake River Planning Commission meeting to defend their right to recreate.
“Twenty-one miles is not a whole lot,” Stoveken said. “It shows that we’re willing to back way down.”
The proposed project, located in the Dillon Ranger District at the juncture of the Straight Creek and Frey Gulch trailheads, would create a network of 13 miles of new trails and approximately 8 miles of existing pathways. It is a scaled-down version of an initial plan that called for more than 60 miles of motorized trails.
Of the 39 speakers at the meeting, the majority were members of the motorized recreational group who support singletrack in Summit.
“Most of the trail has been taken away from us,” said Carolanne Powers, a member of SCORR and resident of Dillon. “If we’re not responsible riders, we won’t have a place to ride anymore, and 21 miles is not a large area.”
County planning staff and nearby residents, however, expressed concern that the trail will become a regional attraction.
Powers doubted that such as small system would draw crowds.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen – currently we have a lot of riders that do travel to other areas, but riders are not going to come here and ride 21 miles of singletrack, people go to other places so they can ride hundreds of miles of singletrack,” Powers said. “What you’re going to see if this does go through, is the after-work riders – the locals that live here that want to unwind after work.”
The county planning staff compiled a list of concerns arising from the environmental analysis of the project conducted by the U.S. Forest Service. The main problem areas stemmed from inconsistencies in the report with designation of the intended use of the system and impacts on wildlife and the environment.
“We’re here to accurately gauge what the citizens of Summit County want,” said Kate Berg, senior county planner. “We feel overall that the entire document is very inconsistent in its assessment.”
The project review process is currently in a 30-day comment period that closes Dec. 17.
After four hours of deliberations that included a project overview, a county staff report, a U.S. Forest Service overview of the proposal and public comments, the Snake River Planning Commission provided input for drafting a comment letter to submit to the Forest Service.
“They have just as much right to recreate in this area – these people are not second class citizens,” said Jeanne Otman, on the commission. “What they’re asking for in the context of the whole county is minuscule.”
Otman said she encouraged those opposed to the system to make suggestions for alternative areas for the singletrack.
“My husband and I have been all over this county in our Jeep,” she said. “The only place that I’ve been that would be at all, in my opinion, acceptable would be up in Williams Fork, but there’s wildlife up there too. There’s no perfect place but this is a large user group that needs a place to go.”
Peech Keller, with the Forest Service said avoiding impacts in a project proposal like the Tenderfoot motorized system is impossible, but that the proposal had identified and mitigated concerns.
John Crone, a resident of the Snake River Basin who serves on the planning commission for the area, said the system would attract riders outside of the county.
“This will absolutely be a regional draw – we had people coming over from other counties to testify that it wasn’t, but it was a regional draw for this meeting alone,” Crone said.
Crone added the analysis created by the Forest Service, “provided a lot of answers with no explanation of how those answers were reached.”
Coming to a consensus, the commission recommended the Forest Service conduct a more in depth environmental impact statement while also identifying alternative locations for the system that would serve both parties, create templates for projected uses of the area and conduct more thorough and conclusive noise studies.
The trail system would offer a winding trail less than 5 percent in steep grade with challenging, narrow, rocky and winding areas, said Ken Waugh, recreation staff officer for the Forest Service.
Other user-created, non-system trails in the area would be closed and rehabilitated, Waugh said. The trail system, if approved by Scoot Fitzwilliams, the deciding official for the proposal, would be managed for all non-motorized uses as well as for singletrack motorized uses.
The Forest Service’s goal is to change an unmanaged, expanding system of mostly steep, eroded user-created trails to a managed, finite system of sustainable, well-designed trails.
But according to Berg, the management of the area and enforcement of laws like spark-arrestor requirements, would be difficult to maintain without funding.
Waugh said the Forest Service would work closely with SCORR and create an ambassador program to have a presence on the trail and bolster the effort by intensifying education for dirt-bike riders.
The trail system allows for more representation of motorcycle recreation in the multi-use national forest, officials say. Currently, recreators are limited to riding forest roads and creating trails that often don’t comply with Forest Service management goals.
“The purpose of this comment period is to provide an opportunity for the public to provide early and meaningful participation on a proposed action prior to a decision being made by the responsible official,” said Jan Cutts, district ranger. “It is very important to note that this proposal does not include the Tenderfoot or Oro Grande trails, which are only open to non-motorized uses.”