Hiking will not be allowed on groomed trails at the Chicken Creek ski area this winter, after an order was issued this month by the San Juan National Forest Dolores Ranger District.
The order will take effect during the winter grooming season, typically mid-November to mid-March. The reason for the order is to prevent dangerous holes on the trails that create difficulties for groomers.
“In order to try and protect the work that all the groomers are doing, plus avoid damage to the trail that could result in people falling, we chose to implement that closure,” said Tom Rice, recreation staff officer with the ranger district.
The U.S. Forest Service allows forests to issue special orders to protect public safety, prevent resource destruction and protect wildlife populations.
For the past 30 years, the ski area typically has been managed by volunteers, Rice said.
“Because of its low elevation and frequent freeze-thaw cycle, the grooming efforts are quite extensive and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” he said.
Peter Brind’Amour from the board of Chicken Creek Nordic, the nonprofit organization that manages the trails, said his group had asked the Forest Service for assistance in keeping hikers away during grooming season.
“If we’re lucky, we may have a two-to-three month window for Nordic skiing,” he told The Journal in an email statement representing the board’s position. “We feel it is reasonable to ask people not to ruin the groomed surface for this brief window in time. However our past requests for cooperation from the walking public have been widely ignored.”
He added that if hikers continue to walk on the trails, Chicken Creek Nordic may halt grooming operations.
“It is impossible to express the frustration our volunteer groomers feel when they work for several hours in the bitter cold only to have their labors undone in a matter of minutes by hikers,” he said.
Hiking will be permitted in the area during the non-grooming season from approximately mid-March to mid-November, and hiking will be allowed in other nearby areas, including the West Mancos and Echo Basin roads, along with Boggy Draw.
Snowshoers will still be permitted at Chicken Creek.
It’s not the first time that the Chicken Creek trail system has been contested by different recreationalists. A few years ago, complaints on the effect of snow bikes prompted the Forest Service to install a sign encouraging bikers to ride elsewhere.