Snake River residents raising questions about management and temporary closure of area, pending completion of a management plan
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — With the sparse snowpack quickly melting off low-elevation slopes, concerns are once again surfacing about motorized use on part of the county’s landfill property, alongside Highway 6 between Dillon and Keystone. The area was officially closed to motorized use on Jan. 1, pending completion and approval of a new management plan.
That plan is in the works and could be completed within the next few months, as stakeholders meeting during the winter have made progress on finding an acceptable location for a contained and managed motocross track. Along with residents of the surrounding neighborhoods, the Summit County Off-Road Riders have been instrumental in developing a plan that with buy-in from all the parties at the table.
But it’s unclear how the area will be managed until the plan is approved by the country, and whether the county has the will and resources to enforce the closure until then.
Snake River planning commissioner Mike Clary raised the issue at a recent joint meeting of the county’s open space advisory council and the county commissioners. Clary said that, in previous years, motorized use started up shortly after Keystone Ski Area closed.
“The day after Keystone shut down the ski mountain, there were people using the landfill property,” Clary said, suggesting that the county lock a gate near Highway 6 to block access. ” I don’t think that there’s anything that’s going to shut down those inappropriate uses … If the gate got locked, it might create a sense of urgency,” he added.
“It’s getting to that time of year that we need to start paying attention … start talking to staff what we’re going to do here. We need involvement and cooperation from sheriff’s department,” said commissioner Thomas Davidson.
“There are tons of people who don’t know about this ordinance and others who really don’t care,” Clary said. The County needs to make sure the closure is publicized and that signs and physical barriers are put in place, along with a plan to effectively enforce the closure, he said.
“Our resources for that kind of enforcement are limited,” said Sheriff John Minor, explaining that the two officers assigned to patrolling open space and backcountry areas are often kept busy by emergency operations like search and rescue missions.
The concerns raised by Clary are just the latest signs of confusion over management of the area dating back to 1993 when the parcel in question changed hands, from the U.S. Forest Service to the county. Motorized use of the area predates that transaction, going back some 30 years, according to some long-time locals.
Initially, the wetlands were protected by berms and barriers. More recently, there has been no enforcement of the closures, and motorized users have been unable to police themselves.
“When we acquired the property in ‘93, we agreed to protect the wetlands,” county attorney Jeff Huntley said last summer. “We tried to shut the trails,” he said. During a site visit last summer, county officials acknowledged that enforcement in the area simply slipped between the cracks.
More confusion stems from local land-use provisions that seem to be in conflict with each other. In 1993, the county passed a resolution approving motorized use in the area, but in a recent update of the Snake River Master Plan, the same area was declared non-motorized.
Residents of Summerwood, Summit Cove and other neighborhoods in the Snake River Basin complained about increasing motorized use on the trails around the landfill and near the cemetery. Noise was a big issue, as were conflicts between motorized and non-motorized users in the area. Pedestrians claimed they felt threatened by unruly riders, and motorized users said they were encountering dangerous booby traps on trails that had long been open to motorized use.
Last summer, the commissioners signaled their intent to close the area, spurring a huge turnout of motorized users at an August hearing. That’s when the commissioners came up with the plan to close the area Jan. 1, but to give motorized users a chance to develop a plan that has the support of the nearby neighborhood residents.
The stakeholder group working on the plan has made progress this winter, but the final version is probably still a few months away, said Mary Patterson, who has been representing the motorized community. Tentatively, the group has identified about 15 to 18 acres of land ehind a knoll at the landfill property. The parcel is big enough to build a mile-long motocross track and a learning and training area served by volunteers. The trail would steer clear of a scarred patch of wetlands in the area, as well as the cemetery.
The area would be geared toward locals and use would be fee-based, perhaps at a cost of about $5 per day, and there would be active enforcement of rules and regulations, Patterson said.
Patterson said she hopes to organize another site visit to the area to flag out the trails on the ground as the next big step in the process. If there’s agreement, the maps and management plan could be finalized and submitted to the county in the next few months, “assuming everyone is still willing to work in a spirit of compromise,” she said.