Trail marking, forest access focus of snowmobile association's quarterly meeting

It's a busy time of the year for members of the Northwest Colorado Snowmobile Club.

First of all, it's snowmobile season and most of the die-hard sledders are out in force every weekend taking advantage of the snow. On top of that, the group just hosted a quarterly meeting of the Colorado Snowmobile Association Friday and Saturday. Now, the group is preparing to offer its annual avalanche training this coming weekend and will host a "poker ride" to raise money for charity the following weekend.

The state association meets four times a year, but the winter meeting is usually held in Craig so members can enjoy a weekend of sledding in some of the best snow the state has to offer, said David Bray, president of the local club. The event attracted between 30 and 40 association members from around Colorado, representing the association's nine districts.

On Saturday, the association held its official meeting at the Holiday Inn, where the main topic of discussion was "the disintegration of multiple-use areas," said Ralph Stewart, a Craig resident who serves as the association's state safety director.

"It seems like every winter, we lose another area," Bray said Sunday morning as the club prepared for its scheduled monthly ride at the Black Mountain Trailhead.

Environmental groups have been pressuring bureaucrats to restrict snowmobiling and other motorized recreation on public lands, Bray said.

"Locally, I can't say we've lost anything, but over in Steamboat and Buffalo Pass, it's a big fight. The Forest Service is just now putting out the word that they're scoping public opinion on winter recreation issues, so by next winter we may be facing more restrictions."

The Forest Service issued a press release Jan. 7 asking the public to weigh in on several issues, including proposals to designate certain areas on or near the Routt National Forest as "non-motorized use areas" for winter recreation.

The state association has not decided how to respond to the scoping document. Currently, snowmobile clubs around the state use a portion of snowmobile registration fees collected by the Colorado State Parks division to groom access trails that are used not only by sledders, but by cross-country skiers and snowshoers. One question raised at Saturday's meeting was "do snowmobilers need to become hardline" and insist that certain areas be designated as strictly motorized areas?

"So far, we're not saying that. We don't want to do that because we support multiple-use areas, but as we continue to lose more areas, we may have to resort to doing that," Bray said.

National forests are popular snowmobiling destinations. Each forest has a comprehensive management plan and within it, a travel plan that lays out routes for motorized movement. When the plans come up for review, snowmobiles are often targeted by environmental groups because of noise, Bray said.

"They say we're scaring wildlife. But we ride high enough that we're not disturbing wildlife. Most animals move to lower elevations during the winter."

So, in the interim -- before the Forest Service or state parks officials restrict more areas -- Bray and his fellow sledders will continue to "enjoy the scenery, the power of the machines and the camaraderie," he said.

To find out more about the Northwest Colorado Snowmobile Club or to participate in the avalanche training or the poker ride, call Jenn Tonso at 824-5821.

Andy Smith can be reached at 824-7031 or asmith@craigdailypress.com.

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