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County commissioners grapple with snowmobile use in Gothic

Gothic property owners concerned about access restrictions

By Kristy Acuff

The Gunnison County Commissioners continue to grapple with a regulation addressing snowmobile access for landowners in the Gothic corridor along County Road 317.

At a board meeting Tuesday, commissioners heard from several Gothic area landowners who expressed concerns about a draft of the proposed regulation, prompting the commissioners to send staff back to the drawing board to revise it. Currently, landowners may use snowmobiles to access property in the drainage for any reason without obtaining permission from the county. The proposed regulation is meant to address concerns that snowmobile use in the “quiet corridor” is growing and the county currently has no method to control or restrict it.

Under the proposed draft regulation, landowners with legally permitted structures could use snowmobiles to access their property only “in an emergency and only with prior written permission from the Gunnison County director of public works.” The draft goes on to state that the director of public works “is authorized to allow other snowmobile access on a case by case basis, including, but not limited to care of livestock… the director may choose to obtain Board approval on a case by case basis.”

In addition, the draft allows Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory to make no more than one snowmobile round-trip journey per week on a regular schedule pre-arranged with the county.

“I am concerned that the proposed regulation restricts our access. I think that legitimate owners should have the right to access property at any time, with or without an emergency,” said Murray Cunningham, part-time resident of Schofield Park. “Currently, I ski to my cabin in the winter but as I am growing older, I may want motorized access and this would deny me that right except in emergencies.”

“The draft states that the director of public works can grant snowmobile access for non-emergency reasons on a case by case basis,” said commissioner John Messner. “So it wouldn’t have to be an emergency in every case. It gives the landowner the chance to say ‘I want to go spend the weekend at my cabin and I am going to take my snowmobile.’”

“I understand your intention to keep the snowmobile traffic to a minimum, and I believe that you do not want to unduly restrict landowners, but what concerns me is the language ‘case by case basis,’” continued Cunningham. “In the future, another commission may interpret the language differently and be less likely to approve non-emergency access.”

“I am also bothered by the ‘case-by-case’ language,” added Fitzgerald Young, a Schofield property owner. “It seems like legal jargon to me and future commissions may say ‘No, we’re not going to allow access this year.’”

“But there are landowners currently abusing their snowmobile access and we have no way to regulate that,” said Messner. “We need a tool to regulate and prevent overuse of snowmobile access in what is the only quiet corridor in the north valley.”

“I understand and fully support that,” said Young. “I just want to be sure the language isn’t open to interpretation in the future.”

“Given that it is July, I suggest we not try to craft the language of the regulation on the fly here in this meeting, but instead send staff back to re-work this,” said county manager Matthew Birnie.

“I would suggest that we take out the word ‘emergency’ for those landowners with legally permitted structures and allow access for any reason but with a county permit,” suggested commissioner Phil Chamberland. “Then we add the word ‘emergency’ to the section for landowners without legally permitted structures, so it prevents those landowners from just going up to snowmobile around the drainage for the heck of it. If a landowner has a livestock emergency or some kind of land-related emergency, then they can use snowmobile access, but other than that, snowmobile access would be restricted to those with legally permitted structures.”

“Can we also include something in the permit that states that the property owner must be present? Otherwise we could run into the problem in the future where cabin owners are short-term renting their cabins and we get non-property owners snowmobiling in the drainage to access the cabin rental,” added commissioner Jonathan Houck.

“Yes, we can stipulate all of those conditions in the county permit,” said Marlene Crosby, director of public works. “We can limit the number of people who can be guests of the property owner and also stipulate that the property owner must be present through the permit system.”

In the end, commissioners directed county staff to re-craft the language of the draft, removing the ‘emergency’ stipulation for landowners with permitted structures on their properties. Staff will present the revised regulation at a board meeting in August.

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