Forest travel plan released for Rico-West Dolores

Friday, Nov. 17, 2017 11:00 PM
Horse Creek is a popular trail near Rico. As part of a new travel management plan, it is closed to motorized use.
A new travel management plan for the Rico-West Dolores area of the San Juan National Forest has been released.

A new travel plan for the Rico-West Dolores area of the San Juan National Forest reduces single-track motorcycle access in order to benefit wildlife habitat, hunters and quiet recreation users.

But the draft plan also preserves long-distance loop rides preferred by motorcycle trail riders, and it adds in new ATV trails.

On Nov. 14, after years of environmental study, public involvement and lawsuit delays, the Dolores Ranger District has released a draft Record of Decision for the Rico-West Dolores Roads and Trails Travel Management Project.

The preliminary decision defines routes for motorized recreation on forest roads and trails in the area north of Dolores, including Bear Creek, Taylor Mesa, Calico National Recreation Trail, Bolam Pass, Divide Road and Groundhog Point.

Under the new rules as described in Alternative B, motorized use will no longer be allowed on the Little Bear trail and most of the main Bear Creek trail, including the lower portion.

“Bear Creek was closed to motorized use under the draft decision due to the wide variety of nonmotorized uses in that drainage, including hikers, cyclists, anglers, hunters, equestrians and outfitters,” said San Juan National Forest planner Debbie Kill.

Near Rico, the Burnett Creek, Horse Creek and Ryman Creek trails will all be closed to motorized use. West of Forest Road 471, the Winter Trail and lower portions of the East and West Fall Creek trails will also be closed to motorized uses.

The trails have historically been allowed for use by single-track motorcycle riders.

The closure of Burnett Creek trail to motorized was in response to Rico residents who did not want motorcyclists accessing the town via that trail.

In all, the draft decision would remove motorized use from 31 miles of single-track motorized trail at various locations.

The East Fork trail, Calico trail and its connectors, and trails near Taylor Mesa and Stoner Mesa will maintain their single-track motorized access. The single-track motorized connection is also maintained on the Gold Run and Grindstone trails. The connection allows motorcyclists to travel on trails from the Haycamp area to the Rico-West Dolores region.

The plan adds back some of the lost motorized trails by incorporating 12 new miles of trail for ATV and side-by-side UTV use in the Lone Cone, Groundhog, and Black Mesa areas.

Single-track motorized use has also been added to the Loading Pen No. 738 trail. And at Bolam Pass, a section of Forest Road 578B will be converted to single-track motorized to provide connection to the East Fork trail.

Kill said the plan includes long-distance loops trails and routes sought after by motorcyclists.

“It also maintains connections to the Hermosa side and the Haycamp side for motorcyclists,” she said.

New timing restrictionsSeasonal timing restrictions for motor vehicle use on trails are a major new change under the new management plan.

Motor vehicle use of trails would be prohibited from Nov. 1 to May 31, except in the Black Mesa area, where motorized trail riding would be prohibited from Sept. 9 to May 31. Forest Road 545J would retain its designation for all types of motor vehicle use.

The timing restrictions do not apply to forest roads open to the public.

The timing restrictions improve wildlife habitat by reducing impacts from motorizes users, according to the decision.

“It also enhances the hunter experience for those who like to walk in. It takes motorized uses off the trails for the late fall hunt, reducing that conflict,” Kill said.

Cross-country motorized travel off roads or trails is prohibited under the new plan. There is no off-road or off-trail motorized game retrieval exemption for the Rico-West Dolores travel plan.

The plan designates 199 miles of roads and 103 miles of trails for public motor vehicle use within 245,000 acres of the Rico-West Dolores area of the forest.

“A key point is that the travel plan does not have major changes to the forest road system where people can currently drive,” Kill said.

Implementation of the new travel management plan for the Rico-West Dolores area is estimated for spring.

Although the official public comment period has ended, the release of these documents marks the beginning of a predecisional objection process for those who have submitted previous comments and thus have official standing to object. Official objections will be reviewed by the forest supervisor or regional forester. For more information, contact Debbie Kill at 970-882-6822.