Winter travel management and summer camping
The public lands around Crested Butte and how they are managed were the focus of a Town Council discussion on Monday evening. What role the town might play in the debate over winter travel in nearby drainages and how to stay on top of overuse of public lands for camping were both discussed.
Mayor Aaron Huckstep said he talked to Corey Wong of the U.S. Forest Service, Gunnison District about the recent Over Snow Vehicle travel management issues surfacing in the region. He said Wong had suggested the town could help bring together different user groups to at least begin a conversation.
“Since the time of the Gang of Nine, things may have changed,” said Huckstep.
The Gang of Nine was a group of local stakeholders who met for many months back in the 1990s to try to divvy up the local valleys for specific winter uses. For example, Kebler Pass Road was emphasized as a motorized area, while the road to Gothic was labeled as off-limits to snowmobiles. No hard and fast rules were mandated but each of the nearby valleys had very clear suggestions for what winter uses would work best.
“The town wouldn’t advocate any position,” said Huckstep. “But we could write a letter to the Forest Service saying it would be good to see every user group come together and talk about the situation.”
“Unlike the summer travel management plan process, the Forest Service doesn’t have a plan to fund a process to figure out the winter plan,” said councilperson Skip Berkshire. “They think the user groups will spontaneously come together and hammer out an answer. I think some of the stakeholders are struggling with how to make the process work.
“I think a town letter to the Forest Service saying we support a process that results in an updated winter travel management plan is a good thing,” Berkshire continued. “The letter can advocate the process but not any position. It can give the Forest Service a nudge through the local municipalities.”
Berkshire and Huckstep said it isn’t crystal clear if winter rules are really in place in this region. “They think, but aren’t sure, they have what they need in place with a map and brochure showing the different uses,” said Huckstep.
“The Gang of Nine rules were pretty squishy,” said councilperson Jim Schmidt. “They were more guidelines than rules. Nothing was mandatory.”
“The question becomes, would we support a public process? Would we like to see them bring user groups together and come up with a new solution?” asked Huckstep.
“The benefit of a letter supporting the process is that the Forest Service might support a facilitator to start and run the process,” said Berkshire.
The council agreed that such a letter would be worthwhile in perhaps nudging the federal agency and the local user groups to begin a discussion. Huckstep said he would draw something up and touch base with Mt. Crested Butte about writing and signing a joint letter.
Oh Be Joyful Camping Impacts
Schmidt said he felt the town should be kept in the loop about what is going on in public lands in the local valleys. He read with interest that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was considering charging people for camping at the Oh-Be-Joyful camp area north of town. “I don’t have a problem with them putting a fee out there but are they looking at the valley holistically?” Schmidt asked. “Is this going to just put more pressure on the Forest Service land? The BLM doesn’t have a lot of property up there, really.
“Is this one more example of loving our surrounding area to death?” Schmidt continued. “Just the amount of human waste produced up there is a real problem. Maybe we write a letter to the BLM and Forest Service to make sure they are working together.”
Town planner Michael Yerman said he has been involved in meetings with representatives of both federal agencies and they have tried to coordinate strategy.
“The fee idea is to put the money back into the campground,” explained Yerman. “They need to provide a lot of toilet paper up there. The second thing is that the Land Trust and the BLM have agreed to hire an intern to collect some hard data about the area this summer. Everyone wants to get some quantitative data for the Slate River Valley.”
“The Forest Service is watching this and aware as well,” said Huckstep. “And the BLM put out a voluntary donation box in the area and it brought in a fair amount of money last summer. People are willing to help up there.”
Huckstep asked the council if the town had any role or responsibility to participate, “especially if we keep encouraging things like mountain bike events that bring in a lot of campers.”
“I thought the same thing when I read how the [Tourism Association] wants to bring in even more mountain bikers,” said Schmidt. “If the promotion is successful, it means a lot more impacts on the surrounding area and the town.”
The council asked Yerman to keep them updated on any new developments concerning backcountry use near the town.