Agency says draft environmental study almost finished; plan sets up showdown between federal and state jurisdictions
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Despite significant concerns and opposition from local neighborhoods, the U.S. Forest Service continues to push ahead with plans for a 30-mile motorized trail system on Tenderfoot Mountain.
According to the agency, the draft environmental study for the trail project is almost complete and scheduled to be released in the coming months.
As one of the final steps, the Forest Service is doing a sound test on June 21 to try and assess noise impacts to areas closest to the proposed motorcycle track, including the Tenderfoot Addition to Dillon, Corinthian Hills, Summerwood, Summit Cove, Tennis Townhomes, Saints Johns Condominiums, and The Enclave. The test will be done between 5 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.
An initial sound test conducted June 1o involved four motorcycles being ridden on trails closest to those neighborhoods. According to the Forest Service, a sound technician used a decibel meter to measure the sound — without success, primarily due to the background noise from traffic on Highway 6.
Residents of the area continue to pepper the Forest Service with critical emails, accusing the agency of kow-towing to special interests, while motorcycle enthusiasts complain that they are constantly losing access to public lands.
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, according to former Colorado Division of Wildlife manager Tom Kroening.
Over the years, there has been very little enforcement at the local or federal level and the motorized community has been unable to police itself, judging by the continued spread of renegade trails. The damage extended to county land, as well, including illegal use of heavy machinery to work on trails near the county landfill.
The process may lead to a showdown between federal and local powers, as the Forest Service seeks to meet its multiple use mandate, while local land-use plans have designated the area as non-motorized.
In a draft comment letter written last fall, the county 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.
The county wanted the Forest Service to study the trail system with an Environmental Impact Statement, a higher level of analysis that requires the agency to discuss several different alternatives, potentially including a different location for a motorized trail system with less impact on the natural and human environment.
The Forest Service says it has addressed many of the major concerns in an informal pre-NEPA process by avoiding sensitive wildlife areas and laying out the trail system in a way that avoids conflicts with other users and residents.
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 in this Summit Voice story.