County commissioners brace for decision on Marble issues

Not much enthusiasm to fund a National Forest protection officer

By Mark Reaman

Gunnison County commissioners will decide how to address some issues in the Lead King Loop and Marble area at their May 2 meeting before the summer tourism crunch begins. 

The commissioners have again been asked by the White River National Forest ranger district to continue funding a forest protection officer to help direct people in the area. But the commissioners expressed some lukewarm feelings on Tuesday, April 18 about continuing the $10,000 expenditure for a third summer. That $10,000 pays for an officer to work for two days a week, and while the town of Marble contributed $3,000 last year, the town has declined to do so this year.

The Lead King Loop is a popular OHV (off-highway vehicle) and ATV (all-terrain vehicle) trail located outside the town of Marble just off County Road 3, and its heavy summer use has led to increased concerns about noise, safety issues, parking violations and environmental degradation. The officers have patrolled the loop the past two summers and made contact with visitors to help minimize their impacts, particularly on busy days. 

While Gunnison County has contributed to this fund for the past two summers, it was considered temporary while the stakeholder group formed a policy recommendation for the area. Dealing with traffic and parking on County Road 3 is also an issue the commissioners know they must address through some sort of mitigation.

Gunnison county manager Matthew Birnie said he was told the town of Marble has declined to fund the officer this year. He said it was in part due to lack of communication with the White River Forest National Forest representatives along with a major winter hit to the limited town budget from increased snowplowing needs.

“I struggle with the idea that we are paying the federal government to do their job,” said commissioner Jonathan Houck. “I’ve struggled to find the justification.”

Birnie said the county has received positive feedback on the officer being in the area.

Houck said the county had helped organize the stakeholder advisory group and had hoped to see progress with some of their suggestions from the White River. “It seems like we’ve seen a lot of dead-ends,” he said in frustration. “The response from the White River is there is nothing they can do.”

Commissioner Liz Smith said since the town of Marble was dropping its funding, perhaps some of the other stakeholders could step up to fill the void. “I know it’s not a money issue, it’s more philosophical,” she said.

Commissioner Laura Puckett Daniels said that while enforcement has been mentioned a lot with the issue, just providing an officer presence seems to have made an impact. 

Houck said if a presence is desired, the White River district ranger has said it would be up to the county to pay for it. That is not something Houck is enthusiastic about.

“My counter to your argument, and I haven’t decided which way to lean, is that we support things that impact the National Forest around here,” said Puckett Daniels. “We support things like the STOR (Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation) committee and the Conservation Corps. We have created mechanisms over here to do stewardship.”

“We do a lot of work with the Gunnison National Forest,” said Houck. “And it works because of the long-term partnerships that have been developed over the years. This corner of the White River doesn’t have the partnership element.”

Houck noted that the county has consistently voiced its concerns and his thought was that the board needed to decide on whether and how to proceed with mitigation measures for the coming summer. He said the issues that citizens have brought up specific to County Road 3 should be wrapped into the same decision. He has a planned trip to Marble to talk with citizens at the end of the month and it is his desire that the commissioners will make a decision on the matter at the May 2 meeting.

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