More regulation may come for Marble’s Lead King Loop

Working group recommends parking changes, better enforcement 

[  By Katherine Nettles  ]

Gunnison County commissioners will consider formal changes to the Lead King Loop/County Road 3 area in Marble over the next several weeks.

A group of stakeholders have been working to find common ground and solutions to ATV and OHV traffic issues there for the past few years, and this fall presented their formal recommendations. No one involved expects any one element to completely solve the issues, but a number of parking and user management tweaks to the complex, multi-jurisdictional area could begin in 2023.

The Lead King Loop working group met with Gunnison County commissioners during a work session late this fall and presented how a combination of changes to parking, better law enforcement and continued outreach and education could alleviate the motorized recreation impacts in the area. No decisions were made during the work session, but overall commissioners welcomed the working group’s input and requested more supporting data on how to enforce potential parking reconfigurations.

The Lead King Loop is a popular OHV and ATV trail located outside the town of Marble just off County Road 3, and its growing use has led to outcry from local residents in the past few years who cite noise, safety issues, parking violations and environmental degradation in the area. The working group, a collaboration between town of Marble officials, nearby residents, Gunnison County officials, law enforcement, the White River National Forest, and the Center for Public Lands at Western Colorado University, held workshops, public listening sessions and collected public survey responses between December 2021 and June 2022. 

Melanie Armstrong, public lands coordinator for the Masters of Environmental Management Program at Western, shared the results of those efforts with Gunnison County commissioners at the end of October. Armstrong said the goal was to create a shared vision for managing the Lead King Loop area by assessing the situation and making recommendations for measurable actions. 

The first recommendation was that the county consider creating a developed parking lot and facilities on the county-owned land parcel adjacent the Forest Service owned Lead King Loop. Armstrong said there was consensus that a dedicated parking area accommodating about 20 vehicles and two horse trailers with space for large vehicles with trailers to turn around, as well as restroom facilities and trash receptacles would significantly improve the illegal road parking and issues of trash and human waste. The second recommendation was for the town of Marble to reduce its unregulated parking spaces from between 20 and 30 spaces to about 12 clearly marked, regulated and reservable spaces.

Armstrong said that addressing parking issues could help limit use on the loop, and county commissioner Roland Mason, who has been heavily involved with the working group, said it was a compromise for stakeholders on all sides of the issue.

“There was pretty full consensus that there is definitely a traffic concern, a dust, noise and crowding issue,” commented Mason. He said that consensus, even among the motorized recreationalists using the loop, had been surprising. “It is impacting the whole site,” he said. 

The third recommendation was for more formal enforcement through the sheriff’s department, a Forest Service protection officer and other authorized stakeholders such as Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). The final recommendation was to continue education and outreach and that stakeholders purchase small, relatively inexpensive devices ($100) to measure decibels at a vehicle’s tailpipe to support enforcement of the 96-decibel limit and educate visitors about the noise levels of their vehicles. It was noted that Forest Service and CPW can write citations in addition to sheriff’s deputies.

Commission chairperson Jonathan Houck said he appreciated the working group’s dedication and recommendations, and said his biggest concern was maintaining effective and consistent enforcement going forward. All agreed further involvement from the sheriff’s office in the conversation would help.

Armstrong said the group received input from approximately 130 attendees throughout the process and acknowledged that the Lead King Users Group has also been a major part of the process. “We brought representatives from Gunnison County, the towns of Marble and Crystal, motorized, mechanized recreation, environmental and conservation industries, community economic development, the Crystal Mill, Gunnison County Sheriff’s office and more,” she said. 

Commissioners along with the sheriff’s department will discuss the recommendations more in the coming weeks, and determine their level of support and action items related to the recommendations.

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