Family granted snowcat access

Permit requires few trips and trail maintenance in Washington Gulch

The Gunnison Board of County Commissioners agreed to grant the Frame family a permit for snowcat access through Washington Gulch to their cabin in Elkton.

 

 

The agreement allows the Frame’s four trips to their cabin for the remainder of this winter and, when a special use permit is applied for again next year, 10 trips will be allowed between November 1 and May 1.
The permit is required because the snowcat would need to travel on a county road to reach the site, six miles from the Washington Gulch trailhead, and a previously agreed-upon travel management plan for the area did not include snowcat use.
During a recent meeting attended by county commissioner Jim Starr, representatives from Gunnison County Sno Trackers snowmobile club, the Crested Butte Nordic Center, a commercial snowmobile guide service, members of the Frame family and others, several concerns were addressed, including the condition of the trail.
“The group felt as though it would be appropriate to give it a try for a year. It was an honest discussion about whether a snowcat should pull a tiller behind it, not a regular track groomer, but just something that would flatten out the tracks left by the snowcat,” said Starr.
Depending on snow conditions, a snowcat can leave tracks that leave ridges and chunks in the snow that make it difficult for other users to travel over, according to the group. By flattening the tracks before they have a chance to freeze, the snowcat wouldn’t disrupt travel for other users.
“If there could be some way for the snowcat to smooth the trail it would be helpful in maintaining the snow conditions, but it would also be helpful in keeping the snowmobiles and skiers that travel in the area on the road and off private property,” said Starr.
The comments made by the group about the condition of the trail were new to the conversation, which has been going on for several months. At first, the concern focused on how much additional traffic would be able to use the road if a snowcat had broken a trail.
But Starr said the group saw that because of the location of Washington Gulch, which doesn’t connect easily with other trails in the winter and borders wilderness, and because of the snowmobile licensing efforts that were started in the area this year, snowmobile use had actually decreased in the valley.
“I don’t really recall anyone having anything negative to say [about using a snowcat in Washington Gulch] at first. It was a question of, if we did that would it create more use or open it up to snowcat use by other people?” said Mary Frame, adding that both clubs agreed recently that it would not increase use.
The Frames, who do not own a snowcat, would only rent or borrow one on occasion to travel to the cabin for emergencies, maintenance or family outings, which, they say, could not be done easily on a snowmobile.
Allen Moores, the county’s assistant director of public works, said the concern with such an arrangement would be having a snowcat parked at the trailhead waiting for those occasions.
But Frame insisted that there would be no need to leave a snowcat at the trailhead, since the machine would be rented or borrowed, and if a snowcat were left at the trailhead, it would only be for a short time.
The commissioners decided, however, to restrict snowcat parking at the trailhead; require that the snowcat pull something to smooth the trail during trips to and from the cabin; give the snowcat access to the cabin via the road only; and have a user log be kept so travel in the snowcat was documented.
Concerns that the group had expressed about maintaining quiet in Washington Gulch were addressed by limiting the number of total trips allowable in the six-month winter season to 10.
“If there is an emergency or a trip is needed that doesn’t fit inside these parameters, then you can make a call to the county and let us know, and so there is some flexibility built into the plan,” said commission chairperson Paula Swenson.
The commissioners said they would sign a resolution granting the Frames the permit for the remainder of this winter at a special meeting on Tuesday, March 10.

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