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Commissioners consider change to Gothic Road winter use

Emergencies only; county permit required for landowners to use snowmobiles

By Kristy Acuff

In an effort to preserve what historically has been the only “quiet corridor” for winter recreation in the north Gunnison Valley, Gunnison County commissioners are considering adopting tighter regulations governing snowmobile use for landowners in the Gothic drainage (County Road #317).

Under the proposed changes, property owners along the Gothic road would be allowed to access their property by snowmobile only in an emergency and would first need to obtain a permit from the Gunnison County public works department. Currently, Gothic landowners may access their property via snowmobile for any reason in the winter without a permit.

In the case of Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL), the county would permit up to one weekly snowmobile trip on a regular schedule pre-arranged with the public works department. RMBL would be limited to snowmobile access between 3 and 10 p.m. excluding weekends and holidays.

In addition, under the proposed changes, the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA) would still be allowed to groom a portion of the Gothic road for non-motorized recreational purposes including fat biking. Currently, CBMBA’s permit to groom is reviewed annually by the county commissioners.

Commissioners discussed the proposed changes during a June 26 work session with staff and interested members of the public.

“The intent of this is to keep Gothic a quiet corridor and to prevent unnecessary snowmobile traffic along the road. Property owners may still access their property in the winter by skiing to it, just not by snowmobile unless it is an emergency,” said county director of community and economic development Cathie Pagano.

“But what if an emergency occurs, for instance, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and someone has to wait until the following Monday to obtain a permit?” asked Rocky Mountain Biological Lab’s director Ian Billick.

“We have someone on dispatch 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” replied Marlene Crosby, county director of public works.

“But determining whether to issue a permit in an emergency is left to the discretion of public works, correct?” asked county commissioner John Messner.

“Yes, but we would also like the option to present special cases to the Board of County Commissioners if we feel that it is beyond our ability to make a determination,” said Crosby.

“Yes, but if it is an emergency, how are you going to gather input from a board that meets weekly?” asked Messner.

“I suspect it would be quite rare when we would have to seek input from you about whether or not to grant a snowmobile permit, but we could call a special session in those cases,” said Crosby.

Commissioner Phil Chamberland noted that limiting snowmobile access during emergencies only and requiring a permit for an activity that has not required one historically represents a significant change. “In the past, landowners were allowed to snowmobile to their property without having to get a permit, and now we’re looking to change that?” Chamberland said. “I understand that we are trying to prevent the misuse of access where the landowner invites friends to ride snowmobiles up there or sends friends up there, but I wonder about the impacts.”

“We are trying to accommodate and plan for growth in all areas of the backcountry and keep this corridor quiet, as intended by the 2001 county resolution. Under the current regulations, cabin owners could potentially short-term rent their property and the renter says, ‘Well, I am not the landowner but I am renting this property so I should be allowed to snowmobile to it since the landowner is allowed to,’” said commissioner Jonathan Houck. “I think there should be a compelling reason for a landowner to access property in the drainage by snowmobile. Right now, there is no such stipulation and this would fix that.”

“But what, exactly would be considered an emergency for a property owner?” asked Gothic landowner and rancher Lee Spann. “I recall several years ago I had to rescue a stranded cow after the snow fell and I had to snowmobile up there with two sleds to bring the cow down. My property doesn’t have a structure on it that needed emergency maintenance, but I needed to use a snowmobile.”

“That would be allowed because it was an emergency. Even if it doesn’t involve a structure on your property, this resolution would permit access for something like that,” said county attorney David Baumgarten.

In the end, commissioners directed county staff to change minor aspects of the proposed regulation’s language and then present it at a future meeting.

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