A final decision on a much anticipated management plan for recreation trails in the Rico-West Dolores region of the San Juan National Forest has been delayed until spring, forest officials announced Monday.
For the past year, public meetings have been held on how to best manage a network of motorized and nonmotorized trails in the area.
A draft decision was expected in January, but the public comment period revealed the Forest Service did not specifically state in the plan that a decision will also be made on the forest’s minimum road system, said Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla.
“From a procedural standpoint, someone could make the case that we never notified the public that a decision would be made on that,” he said.
The minimum road system standard is described as the fewest number of roads the forest needs to manage the forest for all the different purposes. The decision is a requirement of all Travel Management Plans.
Because of the omission, the San Juan National Forest will issue a draft supplemental Environmental Impact Statement in January with the missing information, and initiate another 45-day public comment period. The target date for a final decision on the trail plan is now estimated for May, 2017.
“The public has more opportunity to comment, and we can beef up the analysis a bit more,” Padilla said.
How to balance needs of single-track motorized uses with those of quiet users has been the main thrust of five plan alternatives proposed by the forest.
The area includes the Rico Mountains, Lizard Head Pass and popular trails such as Bear Creek, Calico, Taylor and Stoner mesas, Burnett Creek, Ryman Creek, and others used by hikers, motorcyclists, bikers, hunters, and equestrians. Single-track motorcycle users expressed frustration at proposals to close Calico, Bear Creek, Ryman Creek, Burnett Creek, the Winter Trail, and others, to motorcycle use.
Quiet users want less motorcycle access on trails to preserve their forest experience and reduce impacts on wildlife and hunting.
One area of contention is the Burnett Creek Trail, which is currently open to motorcycles but could be closed under some alternatives in the plan.
The trail connects with the Burnett Road leading into the town of Rico from the west, but the town has complained about motorcycle impacts in town. One alternative proposes to create a connector trail that would direct motorcycles from the end of the Burnett trail to the old Rio Grande Southern railroad bed. From there, motorcyclists could cross the Montelores bridge and ride Colorado 145 to Rico. However, the trail re-route would be voluntary.