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Motorcyclists push back; county objects to loss of trails

Proposal eliminates access to popular motorcycle trails
Views from the Bear Creek Trail. A proposal would close the lower section to motorized users, but the plan is getting pushback from single-track motorcyclists who rely on the trail to access loop rides.

Motorcycle groups and Montezuma County commissioners have filed objections to a draft decision by the San Juan National Forest that would close trails to motorcycles in the Rico-West Dolores area.

The plan proposes to prohibit motorized use on the Lower Bear Creek, Little Bear, Burnett and Horse Creek trails, plus others. The trails are currently relied on by single-track motorcyclists to access higher elevation motorized trail networks and to ride large loops.

The draft decision is being reviewed and is nearing the end of an objection process, said Debbie Kill, a San Juan Forest planner with the Dolores District.

“There has been no final decision,” she said.

Objections are being reviewed, then a decision will be made on the fate of travel plan by district ranger Derek Padilla and forest supervisor Kara Chadwick. It could be revised, sent back for analysis, or upheld.

The popular lower Bear Creek Trail is used mainly by hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. Motorcyclists use it to access higher trails and loops through the forest.

But the trail was slated for closure to motorized use to prevent erosion, user conflicts and wildlife habitat issues.

A possible alternative route would create a single-track motorized route from the Bear Creek trailhead to the Hillside Drive road, which would restore access to the higher motorized trail network.

The proposed new trail would need to go through environmental reviews and the public scoping process, Kill said.

Another option sought by motorcyclists is to make the nearby Morrison Trail motorized to access upper trails from Bear Creek. However, landowners along the Morrison Trail object to motorized use through an easement there.

Casey McClellan, of Timberline Trail Riders, said another option to restore motorcycle access to popular routes is being considered.

He presented historic maps that showed Bear Creek, Burnett Creek, Horse Creek and Ryman Creek, and other trails, were present before the San Juan Forest was created in 1905.

Under a right-of-way claim process known as Revised Statute 2477, the county asserts ownership of the routes, but the forest service says they must prove it in court.

“It may be time to do that to get those back,” said commissioner Keenan Ertel.

McClellan believes the travel management process is flawed because forest officials avoid considering the “no change alternative” option that leave the trails system as is.

In its objection comments, Montezuma County argues that the plan excludes motorcycle users and does not have a balanced multiple-use recreation approach.

“Not only does the San Juan National Forest satisfy the majority of the recreational demands of our county residents, but it is also a major draw for tourist, hunters, and other recreationalists that seek a range of quality recreational experiences, including motorized experiences, in our high country,” the commissioners state.

“Of great concern to our community is the disingenuous statements made by the some of our local and very ‘illustrious’ conservation groups. Their blatant inability to cooperate with, or even attempt to tolerate, other user groups on public lands is shameful,” it says

“As they subjectively note, there probably are some user conflicts, however the attitude of exclusiveness and superior righteousness exhibited by these ‘quiet’ conservation organizations are largely to blame,” the county objection states.

jmimiaga@ the-journal.com

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