Rhetoric about forest travel heating up
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The heated disagreement between motorized and nonmotorized users is expected to return to center stage this summer on the White River National Forest.
In addition to being a physical playground, the White River National Forest has become a metaphorical battleground, with Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen and other New West towns centered on recreation lifestyles, as well as the forest’s proximity to metropolitan Denver.
At issue is how recreational use should be governed. The disagreement is mostly about the real or perceived damage motorized or mechanized equipment cause.
The issue erupted in 1999 when a draft forest plan was released. In some communities, local newspapers carried fulminations by local residents daily. Congress got involved, extending the public comment period to nine months, unprecedented for such plans in the United States. But in the end, to defuse the tension, the U.S. Forest Service deferred the travel management part of the plan.
Now, the Forest Service is expecting to issue that draft management plan next year, and opposing forces are girding their positions already. For example, the Blue Ribbon Coalition, the Idaho-based advocate for motorized recreation groups, says the Forest Service must respond to what the public wants, which is nonwilderness uses.
“You have to sell what the customer wants,” Bill Dart, public lands director for the coalition, told the Aspen Times in March.
Motorized advocates point to sharper increases in mountain bike and motorized use in the last 20 years.
Wilderness advocates, however, such as Sloan Shoemaker of the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, say nonmotorized users still constitute a larger percentage of backcountry users, and they are finding it increasingly difficult to find nonmotorized areas outside of formally designated wilderness areas. Hiking now accounts for 15 percent of recreational use during summer months, compared to 7 percent for “off-road” use and 10 percent for bicycles.
Scott Silver, an Oregon-based wilderness supporter and a vociferous opponent of the federal government’s fee-demo program, says the Blue Ribbon Coalition’s argument represents a further effort to make public lands commercial – “where everything comes with a price tag and where customers can purchase exactly as much fun as they can afford.
“Should this premise of selling recreation to paying customers ever become fully adopted, you can kiss wilderness goodbye, because on a strictly cash-carry basis, wilderness cannot possibly compete with motorized “wreckreation,”’ Silver wrote on his Web site, http://www.wildwilderness.org.
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