Thursday, December 14, 2017
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Local public lands, surprises, dirt bikes and tax cuts

Change can sometimes be surprising.

While we all knew in concept that there would be a big wall going up next to Pitsker Field this fall, it was surprising to actually see the concrete grow as the expanded Center for the Arts took shape. Climate change is becoming more and more accepted as reality (by most people) but it was surprising to see so many people on mountain bikes riding the tacky trails at Hartman Rocks the weekend after the chairlifts began spinning for the winter ski season at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. I’m still surprised when I unexpectedly see a reflection of someone who sort of looks like me, but doesn’t really, as I pass by a mirror. Is anyone not surprised at how quickly Crested Butte is changing as more people move here to get away from the hoards and put their kids in a good, safe, quality school? Based on most neutral analysis, I think most people will be surprised at how much the Republican “tax cut” won’t really help them. According to Business Insider, a family making $75,000 a year would pocket about $33 a week—while it is in effect. They’d then be paying more than they do now when the “cut” expires around 2023.

Change.

So to discover that Crested Butte is changing even more than I imagined was surprising as I looked over the draft of the U.S. Forest Service recreation plan assessment for the Gunnison National Forest revision. It included this analysis:

Mountain biking, born in Crested Butte, is slowly losing ground in popularity to dirt bike use (where such use is allowed),” the draft states. “Mountain bikes and dirt bikes often seek similar trail experiences. The popularity of this area for dirt bike riding can be attributed to the numerous single-track trails that are available, particularly in the Cement Creek area. The multitude of single-track motorcycle/dirt bike opportunities draws several annual special events, drawing participants from all over the country…

Well, that’s a bit surprising to me.

My observations would say it is pretty much the opposite. I’d guess that two-thirds of the vehicles arriving in the valley in the summer have a bike rack attached. Dirt bikers I talk to lament the closing of nearby trails to motos. The confusion might be that mountain bikes now cost as much as a dirt bike and include things that make them look like dirt bikes—shocks, suspension and extreme travel.

Okay, that strange conclusion aside, there are more than 60 pages of interesting facts and conclusions in just the Recreation Assessment section of the draft. It is full of numbers and studies about the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests.  Some surprising gems include:

—The GMUG has 3,615 miles of system trails. There are 2,641 miles of standard trails and 974 miles of snow trails.

—There are five fourteeners in the GMUG National Forest, with some more accessible than others.

—The GMUG National Forest contains a total of 553,427 acres designated as Wilderness, nearly 20 percent of the total acreage of the forest.  A lot of it is out our back door.

The assessment identifies several “key issues” in the Recreation Assessment that won’t be a surprise to anyone who has been here in the last summer or five.

—Dispersed camping demand and impacts are increasing, and may be reaching unacceptable levels.

—Additional trailhead capacity may be needed.

—Additional and updated toilet facilities may be needed.

—Additional motorized routes and loop routes are desired by the public.

The bottom line is that the assessment reasons that the population of Colorado is increasing quickly and people in Colorado like to recreate. They are traveling farther and so, even this once somewhat remote enclave is being impacted. Literally millions of people visit the GMUG every year and the feds expect that number to grow.

Not surprising.

So how is the Forest Service dealing? As best it can but according to the draft assessment, the GMUG’s 2017 recreation program budget was about $2.2 million, with approximately two-thirds of that spent on operations. Overall, the total budget is approximately equal to what it was in 2006, despite “soaring” recreation use. Compared to a high point in 2011, the current annual budget for recreation is $500k smaller.

“The shortfall in the recreation budget is a considerable constraint that negatively affects the quality and sustainability of the Forest’s recreation settings and opportunities,” the assessment makes clear. “Securing adequate funding to maintain, construct, and/or reconstruct recreation facilities and trails to National Quality Standards is not likely to improve.”

Okay then. The feds who manage the land know people are essentially overusing it but they have no money to deal with the ramifications of that equation.

Well, thank goodness for that express train tax cut the Republican leadership is salivating over. That “cut” will put less money toward public lands and more money in already-rich people’s pockets. The Senate budget resolution calls for agricultural spending, which includes the U.S. Forest Service, to be cut by more than $20 billion. It is expected that spending on environment and natural resources would fall by $14.3 billion over the next 10 years. I can already smell the “need” to raise fees and sell public acreage to oil and gas companies.

So we’ll have to likely rely on the partnership route where the feds need to embrace the ideas and assistance of its neighbors.

People around here have long stepped up and will continue to do so since it is, after all, the back yard. I will again argue that a significant chunk of the county Tourism Association budget would be well spent on helping to do even more than it does to mitigate backcountry issues. The logic being that such money spent would draw repeat visitors who have a good time on our public lands and learn the local ethic the more time they spend here. That’s for a longer discussion but, given the USFS conclusions in the draft assessment and the desire of the Republicans in charge to get a “W” with a quick tax cut for their donors, it is a discussion that will be needed soon.

Now, since mountain biking is apparently becoming passé around here, does anyone have a really old dirt bike I could buy with that tax cut I’ll see next year?

—Mark Reaman

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