County reopens CR 3 to ATV and OHV traffic near Marble

Allowance through the end of the year

By Katherine Nettles

After allowing a previous exemption to expire, Gunnison County commissioners decided last month to allow recreational motorized vehicles on part of a county road near Marble again this summer and fall. The road in question, County Road 3 (CR3), provides access from Marble to the popular Lead King Loop in the White River National Forest. The move is considered one final extension while a diverse group of stakeholders work to improve the interface of motorized vehicles with the residents and wildlife in the area.  

Commissioners agreed unanimously during their May 20 meeting to renew the exemption that the county has made for several years and which last expired on December 31, 2022. But they made it clear that they want to help alleviate the issues of noise pollution, illegal parking and overcrowding in the area using the recommendations of the Lead King Loop stakeholders group that includes town of Marble officials, law enforcement, Gunnison County commissioners, recreation user groups, residents and the Forest Service. 

After an extended effort to collect data and study the issues, the stakeholder group recommended last fall that all entities involved collaborate for more stewardship, outreach and law enforcement and add permitted parking, signage and a new parking area and turn around for trailers on CR3. The Forest Service has not committed to more intensive management of its jurisdiction, but commissioners and the Gunnison County sheriff’s department discussed an arrangement last month for deputies to work overtime shifts to enforce speeding, parking and other public safety issues this summer.

Commissioners have long heard from a dozen or so residents who advocate for disallowing or more closely managing ATVs (off-highway vehicles), OHV (over the road vehicles) and UTVs (utility terrain vehicles) on CR3. State statute establishes that these uses are not allowed on county roads unless specifically exempted by a local government.

Commissioners said they have lately heard from other residents and business owners in Marble advocating for the continued use of ATVs and OHVs on approximately 1.5 miles between the town of Marble and the top of Daniels Hill, where the Lead King Loop begins. 

“This has been a tough one for me,” said Gunnison County commissioner chairperson Jonathan Houck. “Ultimately, my goal is to get to a durable, long-term solution that manages the motorized recreation use there.” He said he sees opportunities to increase possibilities for recreation of all kinds in the area and believes that they need to give space and time for those to come together. He suggested opening the road to ATV use for this season, with the usual expiration at the end of the year and evaluating where they are with stakeholder recommendations at that time.

Commissioner Laura Puckett Daniels said she understands the complex needs of that area, which include recreation, ATV businesses and also needing to protect wildlife and air and water quality. She said she supported the exemption while efforts to implement the stakeholder recommendations are in process. One particular issue she noted was the town of Marble’s current use of a mill site as a parking lot, which is not a long-term solution. 

“And it is important that [parking] becomes regulated,” said Puckett Daniels. 

Another issue is the Forest Service funding of its own enforcement officer on the Lead King Loop, and possibly starting a permitting process to limit the number of users on the trail. The Forest Service has not agreed to do either, but will have an enforcement officer in place for the summer using past contributions from Gunnison County and the town of Marble.

Commissioner Liz Smith said she believes in the stakeholder process and recommendations. “It’s a consensus-based process. I think that’s an important thing to acknowledge,” she said.

She also addressed having heard from a lot of people emphasizing the value of ATVs on CR 3. “I think those numbers are actually significant,” said Smith.

“At this point, I am seeing the possibility of a long-term solution,” said Puckett Daniels.  She said that for the county, working between two other jurisdictions that allow ATV use (the town of Marble and the White River National Forest), she supported allowing an exemption for this year.

“We are trying to move ahead with the regulations, using that as our guiding light,” said Houck.

Commissioners then voted unanimously to extend the authorization of ATVs, OHVs and UTVs on County Road 3 until December 31, 2023.

Gunnison County Public Works director Martin Schmidt said his crew is applying magnesium chloride to CR3 to harden the road and reduce dust, and that they need to repair a washout near the top of Daniels Hill in preparation for heavy use this summer.

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