Cops find full moon, full pass at Loveland
SUMMIT COUNTY – For as long as skiing has been a popular recreational pastime in Colorado, avid powderhounds have been seeking out the snowfields of Loveland Pass for blissful backcountry turns. In fact, the fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. On some nights, when the full moon suffuses High Country peaks with a milky brilliance, hundreds of people throng the area for after-hours skiing and riding.The most recent full moon session at the pass, just last Saturday night, turned frightening for a handful of Summit County residents, who said law enforcement officials conducted a heavy-handed ticketing operation along Highway 6, citing numerous drivers for illegally parking in the road.”The first thing I remember her saying is, ‘Get off my road,'” said Breckenridge resident and Keystone ski instructor Amy Marschak. “I felt like my civil rights were about to be violated,” Marschak said, explaining that she left the area feeling intimidated. According to Marschak, police officers were telling people that it was illegal to ski Loveland Pass at night.”The cops showed up and turned their lights on and said that everyone who owns a car needs to pull into the parking lot,” said Adam Nelson, another Keystone employee who was at the pass Saturday night. “The only cars that were on the road were the ones that were picking people up,” Nelson explained, describing the popular practice of skiing down from the summit of the pass to a pickup area near Loveland Ski Area and hitching back up the highway.Colorado State Patrol Capt. Ron Prater said a trooper responded to the full moon party just after midnight when dispatch received a call from a tanker truck driver who couldn’t navigate past several cars blocking the highway.When the trooper arrived and saw the magnitude of people in the area – about 300 – she called for back-up, then used her public announcement system to ask everyone who was parked illegally on the side of the road to move their cars to a safer spot.
“We’re going to communicate in the most efficient, effective way possible, that’s going to be in a P.A. I don’t want my trooper tromping off in the woods trying to contact people,” Prater said.Most of the cars were moved in a timely fashion and CSP only issued one $18.60 parking citation, according to Trooper Justin Mullins, who was not one of the responding officers.Sgt. Kimberly Douglas with the Clear Creek Sheriff’s Office said one of her deputies provided back-up to CSP, but did not issue any tickets. The Summit County Sheriff’s Office was also asked to provide back-up, but stood down its deputies before they arrived because they were told everything was under control, said Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Paulette Horr.Prater said his troopers asked one man not to ski down through the trees to reach his vehicle because they had been told by Clear Creek Sheriff’s Office that night skiing is not permitted in the area. Another problem Saturday was that campers had built bonfires in State Patrol’s rights-of-way on either side of the highway – also illegal, Prater said.Prater said he’s indifferent as to whether people ski after sunset at the pass, but the issue comes down to safety. Loveland Pass is a designated route for wide-load hauls and trucks carrying hazardous materials that aren’t permitted to travel through the Eisenhower Tunnel.It’s tough enough for truck drivers to maneuver the tight turns on Highway 6, without having to dodge cars, skiers and dogs, Prater said.
“We have explosives, we have gas, jet fuel, you name it, corrosives, every type of hazardous materials imaginable going through there. The last thing in the world we’d want is a truck of jet fuel running over some snowboarder running across the road,” Prater said.Prater said if people want to access backcountry skiing off the pass, they need to respect that they’re on a state highway. He asks people not to ski or snowboard on the highway, not to build fires near the roadway, to keep their dogs from running out into the road and to park in legal parking areas.Management issues at Loveland PassSaturday night’s events highlighted some of the management issues resulting from skyrocketing use at Loveland Pass, said Patty Turecek, a Forest Service recreation planner for the Clear Creek Ranger District based in Idaho Springs.The Forest Service is responsible for the public lands surrounding the highway, but doesn’t get involved with managing use in the highway right-of-way, Turecek said, adding that the agency did meet with the Colorado Department of Transportation at the beginning of the season to discuss parking issues.From Turecek’s perspective, the biggest problem is the debris that’s left over in the area when the season ends. Last spring, workers hauled out several truckloads of materials, including old pipes, picnic tables and even bike racks that were all used to create an informal backcountry terrain park near the eastern base of the pass.Turecek said that people are also cutting “numerous” live trees and limbs for the same purpose. During a recent public outreach session at the pass, Turecek said rangers observed one snowboarder who was carrying a shovel and an ax to be used for cutting trees to create terrain features.
But the agency doesn’t necessarily want to move toward more intensive management of the backcountry area around the pass, she said, describing the activities as legitimate backcountry recreation.Additionally, the Clear Creek Ranger District has its hands full trying to manage use at Berthoud Pass along Highway 40, where it faces similar management issues, including trying to enforce a year-old ban on roadside sledding.”We’re struggling everywhere. We’re getting hammered everywhere and it’s coming to haunt us,” Turecek said.She suggested that that a handful of irresponsible and thoughtless users at Loveland Pass are causing most of the problems by blocking or partially blocking the highway, thus endangering themselves and others. Selfish behavior by a few bad apples ultimately could threaten the public lands access privilege enjoyed by many, Turecek said.The best possible solution would be for the backcountry community to police itself. Responsible users need to speak up and take the initiative with their peers to ensure safe enjoyment of the area, she said.”We can’t mandate that people have commons sense in the backcountry,” said Jill Wick, a Forest Service law enforcement ranger with the Dillon Ranger District in Silverthorne. “We let people be responsible for themselves until they prove they can’t do that. Then the privilege can be taken away, like at Vail Pass,” Wick said, referring to the intensive management of the backcountry near I-70 between Copper and Vail, where rangers and volunteers patrol on a routine basis to enforce Forest Service rules. Turecek said the grassroots Friends of Berthoud Pass group, which helps provide a volunteer presence at the Clear Creek County location, could provide an evolving model that might someday prove useful at Loveland Pass as well.Wick said another option might be to staff the pass with Forest Service rangers, at least on the weekends, to conduct education and outreach, but acknowledged that the agency faces severe budget and personnel constraints.
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