Summit County: Tenderfoot trail showdown looming

County says proposal would have significant impacts on wildlife and quality of life; Forest Service seeks to provide more motorized opportunities

A map of the proposed Tenderfoot trail system included in the Forest Service scoping notice.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A proposal by the U.S. Forest Service and the Summit County Off-Road Riders to develop a 30-mile trail system on Tenderfoot Mountain is facing some serious questions from the Summit County commissioners.

In a draft comment letter, the commissioners said the proposal doesn’t mesh with local land-use guidelines, as expressed by the Snake River Basin master plan. The commissioners also questioned the Forest Service’s intention to evaluate the proposal with an Environmental Assessment, a level of analysis that, for an approval, must conclude with a formal Finding of No Significant Impact.

“The County believes that a motorized trail system of this extent would have significant impacts on the community, wildlife and natural environment within the Snake River Basin,” the commissioners wrote in a letter to be finalized before the Nov. 20 comment deadline.

According to the county’s letter, those impacts could include: “significant impacts of noise on wildlife in the area, cumulative impacts to the Snake River Basin’s built and natural environment resulting from ski area development and other tourism-based recreational uses within the basin, and significant changes to the character of the environment and the recreational user experience within the area.”

If the Forest Service proceeds, the county believes the agency should do a full-scale Environmental Impact Statement, a level of analysis that generally includes several different alternatives, with a comparison of the relative impacts of each option.

That could potentially enable the Forest Service to consider a phased approach to developing a trail system, starting on a smaller scale to assess whether the motorized community can achieve a degree of self-policing and a culture of compliance.

The Tenderfoot Mountain area has been scarred by years of unauthorized off-road use, which resulted in an extensive network of damaging trails and displacement of wildlife in the area. Over the years, there has been very little enforcement by the agency. The damage extended to county land, as well, including illegal use of heavy machinery to work on trails near the county landfill.

The Forest Service is in the scoping stage of its analysis, seeking to identify issues that should be addressed in the study. The proposal includes the rehabilitation of 15 miles of existing trails in the same area. Some illegal user-created trails in the same area would be closed and rehabilitated. Read more about the proposal and find comment info at this Summit Voice story.

A long history of public comment on motorized use in the Tenderfoot area shows significant opposition from residents in the area, as well as strong support from the motorized community. Read more in this 2009 Summit Daily News story (by Bob Berwyn).

The county’s letter refers to earlier comments made during the travel management process, which indicated concerns about:

  • Noise impacts on local residents and visitors;
  • Decreased property values;
  • Increased wildfire hazards;
  • Displacing existing users;
  • Enforcement problems; and
  • Increased user conflicts and safety concerns.

In its scoping notice for the proposal, the Forest Service said it has at least partially addressed most of the issues in a pre-NEPA planning process, by avoiding sensitive wildlife areas and laying out the trail system in a way that avoids conflicts with other users and residents.

The Snake River master plan calls for non-motorized recreational trail use in the Tenderfoot area, with the exception of motorized use on a few traditional roads used for hunting and backcountry access.

According to the county, “The Tenderfoot Mountain Motorized Trail System proposal currently being considered by the USFS clearly conflict” with that plan. “Accordingly, the County has serious concerns with the proposal because of the inconsistency with the Snake River Master Plan,” the draft letter states.

The letter also points out that the final version of the forest travel management plan appeared to reflect the majority consensus desire for non-motorized recreation in the area.

“There was a lot of confusion about why the Forest Service would come in with a proposal that appears to be at odds with the travel management plan guidance,” said planner Kate Berg, referring to public comments at a couple of recent meetings, including the Snake River planning commission.

During this week’s work session, the commissioners also called on the Forest Service to address potential socio-economic impacts of the proposed trails, as well as how the proposal might affect other trail systems in the county.


Controversy blossomed around motorized use of the area in 2009, when the Summit County County Off-Road Riders applied for a state grant to plan a trail system in the area. The motorized users and the Forest Service said at the time that they had no intention of proceeding with the project before finalization of the White River National Forest travel management plan, but critics of the trail system said the application for the planning grant was premature. Read more in this 2009 Summit Daily News story (by Bob Berwyn).

During some of those earlier discussions, it was also pointed that historic motorized use of the general area predates local land use planning and regulatory efforts — long before neighborhoods like Corinthian Hills and Summerwood were built.

Read all of Bob Berwyn’s 2009 stories on the Tenderfoot issue at this link.

Draft version of BOCC comment letter:


12 thoughts on “Summit County: Tenderfoot trail showdown looming

  1. What a kettle of worms! Who or what will end up on the short end of the stick here? It’s a given that the Animals will head the list, then the environment, then the human inhabitants who have chosen to live in the affected areas, then of course, the business entities, lastly, the ones who want to either hike or ride their moto’s. Personally, I don’t think that the moto’s belong in the mountains. There are many reasons why, but I’m perhaps of the minority on this? Granted, there are those who take the sport seriously, adhere to the rules and curtsies, but, each year, there are new younger riders who for what ever reason, believe it’s their right to ride, regardless. There is another aspect to consider, the imprint that is left by the moto’s, Left to Mother Nature to repair, takes generations.

  2. Many issues brought up by nearby residents have already been addressed. Studies (paid for by SCORR) have proven HWY 6 creates more noise pollution than this trail system will. Trails will be built far away from homes in the area. Also, properly built moto trails can be sustainable.

    That is exactly what SCORR & the USFS are trying to build. Hasn’t the county screwed the moto folks enough already? Let them have this area, and we’ll see that it will prevent illegal use and/or the creation of bandit trails elsewhere.

    I am not a moto rider, and I support the Tenderfoot Trail System.

  3. I generally agree with Dan above. I believe properly built trails can be sustainable, even with moto’s riding on them. I do however, agree with Norman, that new, young, and/or “just don’t care” type of riders ride where and how they want, that the rules don’t apply to them.
    I do think there needs to be some designated areas for moto’s to ride, and I know members of SCORR are trying hard to educate. Unfortunately, the few ruin it for all, and since motos are louder and leave bigger scars, the large majority of good moto riders get screwed.
    I think this idea needs to be worked, and with a lot of thought and planning before any shovels are bulldozers move any dirt, it could be a very good thing and an asset to our community.

  4. Interesting comments. I think this illustrates a socio-economic and cultural divide in Summit County. It’s hard to believe that motorized users don’t have a single advocate on the Snake River planning commission, which has supposedly expressed the will of the majority of Snake River Basin residents by calling for non-motorized use in the area.

    Why Is the planning commission dominated by anti-motorized demographic?

    We know there are plenty of motorized recreation enthusiasts in Summit County, based on the turnout at the 2009 meeting on this issue. Why aren’t they represented on the planning commission?

  5. Great comment Bob. Reminds me that mountain bikers have the same issue in Boulder. They aren’t represented on these commissions and they continuously get the shaft.

  6. Summit County and the White River National Forest have a golden opportunity to build a sustainable motorized recreation system. The fact is, motorized recreation is in place and is a significant contribution to the local economy and quality of life. It cannot be simply shut off, because the very nature of the issue is that motorized use is possible in a dispersed manner that can be managed with four simple protocols: Education, Engineering, Enforcement, and Evaluation. This plan is an excellent example of the balance between these protocols and should be supported by the community at large.

  7. I can see both sides here. The SCORR guys have been working to do the right by their constituents and promote responsible motorized recreation. They have their hands full though. Take a person on foot or a bicycle who doesn’t care about stewardship and it’s bad enough and you have a problem. Put that same person on a high performance motorized toy and the problem is multiplied. While I have my doubts that a comparatively small and well populated are like Summit Co is the best place for intensive motorized recreation compared to a more rural area, I do think they should have quality places to ride.That said, there are a lot of legitimate issues brought up in the County’s letter and they should be carefully addressed

    . I have doubts as to the ability of volunteers to be law enforcers. Peer pressure maybe, but Law enforcers? At Vail pass it took and takes a regular agency law enforcement presence to get good compliance with the rules. Once that presence goes away in the spring, compliance goes way down. Having a legitimate law enforcement presence there will be key. The problem is what does that look like? Law enforcement for things like backcountry recreation is spread pretty thin as it is.

    I also think there needs to be a strong plan to close and rehab the old user created trails. Maybe before new trails are built and opened, old trails need to be closed and rehabbed. That might create a good incentive.

    The noise issue needs to be strongly addressed. While there’s no doubt that the highway is noisy, presently when there are dirt bikes at the landfill, the noise really rises above the background and carries. Even well over in Summit Cove you can plainly hear them. They need a solid plan for street legal pipes only and regular noise enforcement

    I’m certain that sustainable moto trails can be built but the question is will the riders like them? Judging by all the user created trails I’ve seen moto riders tend to like steep trails. Trails like this require a lot of either armoring and drain work and/or near constant maintenance for bicycles – with the extra weight, tire and horsepower of a motorcycle those issues are multiplied. Will the riders like trails with less steep grades? I don’t know the answer to that, maybe with enough creativity of alignment and use of features they can create good trails that the riders will stay on.

    Lastly I find it interesting that the County is wary of Summit Co becoming a moto “destination” if this trail system comes to fruition. I’m not sure if there’s any merit to that or not but I can understand the thought. As i said in the first paragraph, the County is relatively small and well used. A person on a motor vehicle uses a lot more trail mileage than any of the non motorized users and occupies a larger space due to noise, trailer space at trailheads, etc. I’m not sure Summit is a good place to be a moto “destination’ but as mentioned, I’m not sure if that would happen with this trail system or not.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Mike. I would also like to see the FS make sure that ALL existing trails are in good shape before building any new trails. As for enforcment, maybe SCORR could hire some private security, like the Dillon Dam guards 🙂

      1. HA! Well, I suppose Cale or Derek could spend some time out there but I’m not sure Jill rides a moto or if the FS has one available even if she has the skills. I’d imagine Tyler could do it but once again, the FS would have to come up with a bike for him to patrol on. The issue is if the LEO’s wrap a lot of time into this area, what happens to the other areas that need attention?
        The SCORR guys seem to be really sincere about trying to do this the best way they can but it’s a pretty large project that’s going to require some pretty active management. Maybe I’m wrong but I’m not sure an organization their size can manage something like this.

  8. Bob. Job well done. This issue keeps raising it’s noisy head. I believe we have a good start to opposition and I am hopeful the USFS starts getting it. Time to listen to what the various jurisdictions are talking about. Take good care. Happy Thanxgiving.


    1. Jay, you are very much in the minority in this community. You refuse to accept that OHV use is a major economic contributor to the local economy, that it is nearly universally enjoyed in this state by over 300,000 OHV owners, and that every aspect of the Forest Service program is designed to isolate the community from noise issues and provide a sustainable recreation resource. The tired old arguments of excessive noise are completely ridiculous in the face of the new state regulations for noise compliance, the fact that ALL major OHV manufacturers have reduced their emission level below 86dB (quieter than your car), and that an enormous amount of money has gone to law enforcement in this to train and equip officers with the necessary equipment and knowledge. Time to pull your head out, study the actual issue, and stop relying on innuendo and sound bites to make your non-existent point. The professionalism and careful scientific study that has gone into this effort has produced a program to be proud of, and the Forest Service and active community groups are to be commended for the effort to include the entire range of opinion in the local community in reaching this decision. Sour grapes, my friend, do not make a fine wine.

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