County, USFS frustrated with disregard for regs on Cottonwood

Chance of being squished by a dump truck is apparently no deterrent

by Toni Todd

Cottonwood Pass Road is closed for a major re-route and paving project all summer, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping ATV riders, dirt bikers and even some mountain bikers from riding it anyway. Contractors working on the road have reported several recent encounters with illegal riders on Cottonwood Pass at their worksite.

“The problems do not start at the bottom of Cottonwood at the Taylor intersection,” said deputy county manager Marlene Crosby. “They’re coming in from the side roads, particularly on the south side of Cottonwood Pass.”

Those side roads are U.S. Forest Service (USFS) roads, said Crosby, which means they fall outside the jurisdiction of the county sheriff’s deputies.

However, the local office of the USFS views the pass road itself as outside USFS jurisdiction.

Crosby said some of the access roads are not physically closed with a barrier, but they’re all well-marked with ample signage informing travelers that Cottonwood is closed. “It does not appear to be lack of knowledge about the closure, but rather a lack of respect for the closure,” she said.

In one case, said Crosby, a mountain biker apparently lifted his bike over the barricades at the top of the pass and rode down through the project. “Especially the biker, but also the ATVs are in the path of big equipment that may not even be able to see them when they are alongside or behind the equipment. They impact safety and disrupt the project,” she said.

Crosby said Gunnison County sheriff Rick Besecker is working with the regional office of the Forest Service in Denver to get them to issue an official Forest Service order authorizing local USFS law enforcement officers to write tickets on Cottonwood Pass. Crosby said the Cottonwood Pass project is a cooperative effort between the USFS, the Federal Highway Administration and Gunnison County, so it makes sense that USFS law enforcement should have equal authority to county deputies in enforcing the closure. However, whether it makes sense or not, without that order, Crosby said, the local USFS office won’t budge. She’s gotten calls in the middle of the night, she said, asking her to dispatch county sheriff’s deputies up to Cottonwood to write a ticket, even though a USFS officer is already on the scene.

Until the official Forest Service order is issued, county law enforcement will do its best to help. “Sheriff Besecker told me today that he has been in the area a couple of times this past week, and will be having his deputies there as much as their schedule will allow,” Crosby said.

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