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Summit County: Forest Service says, ‘Give us a chance’ on proposed Tenderfoot Mountain motorized trail system

County officials feel slighted by federal bureaucrats

Motorized riders enjoy cruising a road near the Summit County landfill on lower Tenderfoot Mountain. Bob Berwyn photo.

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By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A plan by the U.S. Forest Service to build 13 miles of new trails for motorized use on Tenderfoot Mountain has put the agency on a collision course with local residents who have fought the plan from its earliest stages. Despite some changes from the original proposal, most residents of the affected area remain adamantly opposed.

Meanwhile, Forest Service rangers are asking the community to give the project a chance, claiming that motorized users will police themselves to make sure that impacts don’t spread beyond the trail system that would span about 1,800 acres on the hillsides above Highway 6 between Dillon and Summit Cove.

The Forest Service released an environmental assessment for the project in mid-November, triggering a 30-day public comment period. Based on the final round of feedback, agency officials will release a final decision on the trail system sometime this winter. All the Forest Service documents relating to the proposal, including comment information, are at this WRNF web page.

While there is strong support for the trail system from a small, but vocal and active group of dirt bike enthusiasts, opposition is widespread throughout the Snake River Basin, where a local land-use plan designates the area as non-motorized. According to Summit County Commissioner, an “the vast majority of residents” oppose the motorized trail system.

Summit County Off-Road Riders, the local motorized user group backing the plan, has not responded to numerous calls and emails asking for comment.

The Forest Service has long said that it’s obliged to consider providing recreation opportunities for all types of users, and the agency has deemed the Tenderfoot area as appropriate, even though it was designated mostly for non-motorized recreation under a recent travel management plan.

“Responsible and sustainable motorized trails are totally reasonable to provide to the public,” said Peech Keller, who coordinates environmental reviews for the agency’s Dillon Ranger District under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“The gist of it is to get SCORR to adopt the trails. They are going to be our eyes on the ground, they can’t write tickets of course, but this has been done in a number of other places. They apply peer pressure,” Keller said, referring to the hope that the motorized community will police itself to prevent the creation of more renegade trails — in addition to the large number of illegal trails that already exist in the area.

Keller said that, as part of the trail proposal, the agency hopes to get grant funding for a two-person off-highway vehicle patrol crew that would help manage use not just on Tenderfoot, but across the rest of the district.

“We’re really committed to making this work monitoring wise and enforcement-wise,” Keller said. “I know this is going to be really controversial, but I hope the community gives us a chance,” she said. If the motorized trail users don’t live up their obligations, the Forest Service could choose to shut down the trail system, she said, adding that it’s been done in other places.

But many of the critics don’t believe the Forest Service would ever close down a trail system once it’s been built; they take issue with the way rangers approached the process and feel like the agency has been dismissive of its concerns.

“Even before the NEPA process, this has always felt like we’re getting pushed into a corner,” said Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier. “We have the consistent concerns from our constituents there, and based on the the Snake River master plan, there was no interest in motorized use in that area,” she said.

Stiegelmeier said the tone of communications between the county and the Forest Service deteriorated during the Tenderfoot process. At one point, county officials heard that Forest Service staffers were “upset” with the county’s comments during the scoping stage.

“We said, ‘why were you shocked? This is what we’ve been saying for years,'” Stiegelmeier concluded.

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