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County commissioners move to approve RMBL’s snowmobile request for increased snowmobile access

Drafting parameters for snowmobile traffic along Gothic

By Kristy Acuff

The Gunnison County Commissioners moved in the direction of approving Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory’s (RMBL) plan to formalize its snowmobile use along the Gothic corridor at Tuesday’s commissioner meeting.

Commissioners directed county attorney David Baumgarten to draft a resolution to regulate when and how RMBL can use snowmobiles in the valley’s “quiet corridor.” However, they are still grappling with whether the new regulations will apply only to RMBL or to all landowners in the Gothic corridor.

For now, the plan is to limit RMBL to weekly snowmobile trips during off-peak hours between 3 and 10 p.m. Ideally, RMBL will tag-team with the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association’s groomer, which grooms the Gothic road weekly for fat bikers. By coordinating their efforts, the hope is to limit impacts to other users.

“We would ask RMBL to coordinate with CBMBA and when possible, use their groomer or go out at the same time and go behind their groomer,” explained commissioner Phil Chamberland.

“Yes, we plan to utilize CBMBA as much as possible,” said Ian Billick, RMBL’s executive director. “Our hope is that we don’t have to run our own snowmobile for the next five years.”

The impetus for changing RMBL’s snowmobile use is to support increased winter educational and research programming at their Gothic site. In documents submitted to the county, RMBL proposes using snowmobiles for logistical support and emergencies only—not to transport program participants or instructors.

“We would use a motorized vehicle for operational emergencies at any time when we were unable to respond to an emergency without a vehicle or when subcontractors require the use of snowmobiles. We would use a motorized vehicle for non-emergency logistical support no more than one round trip per week,” states the proposal.

Representatives from Silent Tracks voiced concern that RMBL’s potential increase in use might prompt other property owners in the Gothic valley to also increase their snowmobile access. Under current land use regulations drafted in 2001, landowners have permission to use snowmobiles for unrestricted access to their properties along the Gothic corridor.

Landowners whose property does not abut the Gothic road must also receive a permit from the Forest Service to use a snowmobile for access.

Most property owners utilize the snowmobile access infrequently for winter maintenance and occasional home visits. Currently, there are no time restrictions on the snowmobile use for private landowners but that could change with the new regulations being proposed for RMBL.

The county is still grappling with whether the new parameters applied to RMBL would also apply to other landowners, or if they would continue to operate under the 2001 regulations.

“Silent Tracks does not oppose reasonable access for any property owner in the Gothic corridor,” said Maureen Hall. “Our concern is that we don’t know how far this is going to go. This is a slippery slope and we just want the commissioners to remember that this is the only quiet corridor we have. Every other drainage is full of snowmobiles and this is the only place left for a quiet experience.”

“What if a property owner decides to VRBO their place up there? Would the renters be considered de-facto landowners who could access it via snowmobile? We need to craft our regulation to restrict that kind of potential access,” explained Chamberland.

Commissioner John Messner suggested beginning a permit system for landowners that could prevent abuse and overuse of the snowmobile access. “It would be similar to the permit system we have in place for property owners at Lake Irwin to park their sleds in the parking lot. Gothic landowners would receive a permit for their snowmobile and we use the permit process as an opportunity to educate them about what is acceptable and not acceptable use.”

“Any kind of system needs an enforcement piece. If the homeowner abuses the system, could the permit be revoked?” asked Cathy Frank, a Silent Tracks board member.

“And what would it cost? As of now, Gothic homeowners get free access via snowmobile. Are we going to start charging for a permit?” asked Marlene Crosby, Gunnison deputy county manager.

“If you outline the specifics of who, what, why, when and where, I think you will produce a document that will endure for the next 10 to 15 years,” said Baumgarten. “That also means outlining ‘who cannot, what not, when not…, etc.’ Specifically dictate what is allowed and what is not allowed so we have clear parameters.”

“We understand if you have to impose different restrictions on (RMBL) than you impose on the private homeowners up there,” said Billick.

“But legally, it is simpler for us to have one set of parameters for all property owners, and not single out RMBL,” replied Baumgarten.

For now, the plan is for county staff to draft the new regulations and work out the details about which parties they will affect.

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