Dirtbike noise near Dillon goes unheard in sound study

Janice Kurbjun
Summit Daily News
Special to the Daily/Tripp Fay

A noise test conducted in the areas surrounding Tenderfoot Mountain’s proposed 30-mile dirtbike trail system revealed little in the way of sound intrusion for nearby residents.

Ken Waugh, recreation staff officer for the Dillon Ranger District, mapped out seven locations from Corinthian Hills to Keystone that might be affected by the trail system. The areas are inhabited by people who have commented on the trail system proposal, and he wanted to give residents a chance to hear for themselves.

The trail system is being developed because the dirtbike recreational use isn’t well represented in the multi-use national forest, officials say. Currently, they’re primarily limited to riding forest roads, which aren’t as adventurous or scenic as a dedicated singletrack system.

“We, as a minority group with specific needs to recreate, would like some respect as what we are: An organized family oriented, positive contributor of Summit County, working with all in the county to be able to do what we do: Have fun and recreate responsibly,” Summit County Off-Road Riders co-founder Rover Pederson wrote to Corinthian Hills residents in an email. He said hikers have a large portion of the county dedicated to peaceful, quiet meandering through the woods, and now they want motorized areas closed, too.

A formal noise study for the Tenderfoot project was conducted in 2009 using decibel meters, Waugh said. This time, he and Forest Service staffers visited various locations, shut their vehicles off, and stood, listening intently for any sign of bike noise over the traffic of Highway 6.

“So far, we haven’t heard anything, at least not motorcycle sounds,” Waugh said from the top of Summerwood Drive in the Summerwood subdivision between Dillon and Summit Cove. He explained the residents say they can hear racket over the highway noise, but speculates it comes from the nearby SCORR track, and the topography amplifies the sound. He doesn’t think that’s the case for the proposed system.

Three SCORR riders were tasked with riding the trail sections nearest the homes where three Forest Service officials listened. Other motorized trail traffic was cut off, and SCORR riders weren’t asked to rev their engines.

“We’re making the assumption that they are respectful riders,” Waugh said, speaking of the possible trail system users.

Residents think otherwise.

“Using SCORR riders kind of rigs the test because they’re going to ride bikes with good muffler systems,” Corinthian Hills resident Ted Beegle said, explaining that when the Oro Grande trail was open to motorized traffic, he heard high-pitched sounds, and characterizes most riders as such. He also said he heard the bikes on Tenderfoot Trail before a water truck’s diesel engine interrupted his listening.

Waugh admitted he heard the dirtbikes from Corinthian Hills when they were on Tenderfoot Trail, but he clarified that the proposed trail system wouldn’t include the Tenderfoot and Oro Grande trails, which are closer to residents’ backyards. The proposed trails are almost double the distance away, perched higher on the mountain – and he didn’t hear the bikes once they moved into the proposed system.

Beegle contends it’s still 4,000 acres of riding opportunity, which is larger than many ski resorts.

“The place will get known,” he said. “Once it gets known, it will become a regional destination.”

Which is why he feels the noise test involving three riders isn’t sufficient.

But, noise isn’t the only issue for many of those opposed to the trail system, Beegle said.

Some are concerned about the national forest and the effects of letting “wild banshees” loose on the land.

“Who do you call when people do things wrong on national forest land?” resident Jack Fisher asked. “We have more law enforcement on Highway 6 than we will on this trail.”

A lone Forest Service law enforcement officer is tasked with writing citations for national forest violations in the Dillon Ranger District, but SCORR plans to have volunteers in place to help educate trail users.

Joyce Juhasz said she didn’t hear anything during the test, but still suggests the trail system relocate to the other side of the mountain. The proposal includes 15 miles of existing trail that will need rehabilitation rather than new construction.

Juhasz also worries about sparks emitted from the vehicles in such dry conditions. As far as riders, she’s worried the riders who will come into the area won’t abide by the rules the way SCORR riders typically do.

The environmental assessment for the proposed trail system is nearly complete and will be released in the next few months.

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