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To:       The Dolores District Office                               elk

From: The North San Juan Advisory Committee                                    08.29.07

 

Dear Steve Beverlin and Dolores District Office,

Background
As you may recall, in June of 2006, the Town Board of Trustees issued a letter to the San Juan Public Lands office which prompted the completion of a signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Public Lands Center and the Town of Rico. This MOU was signed in October 2006 and is in effect until September of 2010.  Within this MOU is the understanding that the Public Lands Center and the Dolores District office recognize through this MOU agreement that the Town of Rico is a cooperating agency harboring expertise with regard to the San Juan National Forest surrounding their area. This expertise has articulated specific cooperation with regard to the planning process and management prescriptions taking place with particular emphasis on recommendations made by the Town within the established 3 mile radius around Rico.

In order to facilitate community input, the Town of Rico staff engaged the involvement of a local civic group. The group is comprised of citizens living in and around the Rico area and involves people who have varied recreational interests but who share a strong interest in maintaining the wild character of our large undeveloped areas.
The group also seeks to provide recommendations that may also aid in retaining the opportunity for public land users to enjoy high quality recreational experiences while accessing the San Juan National Forest near or around the Rico area.

Named the North San Juan Advisory Committee, the group has been developed specifically to aid the Town of Rico in looking at access, recreational experiences, resource protection, and wildlife habitat. The Committee was also developed to make recommendations to the Board of Trustees with regard to route by route motorized and non-motorized travel suitability on National Forest in and around the Rico area.

This Committee has met several times during the past year to discuss and debate individual route designations concerning many routes adjoining or within the immediate Rico area.  After much thought and deliberation, the following conclusions have been drafted for presentation to the Dolores District.

It is hoped that the Dolores District Office will work with the North San Juan Advisory Committee to have these recommendations incorporated into a preferred alternative for review both by the San Juan Public Lands and Dolores District offices and available for the public comment forum in this area.   

Recommendation
The Committee is recommending that single-track routes (trails) in the high country surrounding Rico are unsuitable for motorized use. Existing roads will continue to remain open for 4-wheel drive utility and other motorized uses and hunting and calving seasonal closures are recommended on all single track areas within the 3 mile radius focus of Town.

This recommendation is designed to make a proactive approach to providing protection to the region’s high alpine forests from unmanaged motorized use while still providing a recreational experience for motorized recreational users. 

The Committee also recommends the creation of a route that provides a non motorized recreational experience from town. The route identified is the designation of a loop trail that will have non-motorized users share the existing roads of Horse Creek and Burnette with motorized users up to the single tracks. At this junction, single track routes extending south from Horse Creek along the Calico trail and connecting with Burnette Creek or vise versa, will be recommended unsuitable for motorized travel and remain as such until joined again by the roads from either Burnette Creek or Horse Creek to town.

The Committee is also recommending that most single track routes located on the west side of Hwy 145 be suitable for motorized travel south of Burnette heading toward Priest Gulch and that areas encompassing routes north of Burnette Creek, including upper Calico, be unsuitable for motorized travel.

The Committee is also recommending that all single track routes located to the east of Hwy 145 from East Fork Trail to Ryman Creek are unsuitable for motorized use. From Roaring Fork Road south, routes have been identified as suitable for motorized use, including the acceptance of motorized use on Bear Creek trail.
All non motorized routes would be open to hiking, biking and horse-back riding, and will provide the residents and visitors of Rico with access to the forest. The Committee’s recommendation of a non-motorized route from Town was designed specifically to provide access to a recreational experience without having to drive a vehicle. This concept was designed to aid in decreasing motorized staging from town which seems to be an increasing problem year after year within town limits. 

The advisory committee had difficulty with generating an option for off road motorized routes from town due to the complexity of appropriate vehicle staging and access.  Off-road vehicles driving through residential neighborhoods for the purpose of accessing single track routes proved to be a difficult recreational option to recommend at this time for this Committee due to concern from some residents of Rico. 

Visitors to our region who are seeking off-road motorized recreational experiences can access roads and routes to the south at Priest Gulch, or to the north of town at Barlow Creek, where suitable public facilities exist.  It is hoped that these users will continue to patronize Rico for their gas and other needs. 

We believe you will find these recommendations try to be consistent with the town goals as stated in the Rico Regional Master Plan. Supplemental information is attached to provide a more detailed explanation of environmental and economic issues which contributed to the Committee’s recommendation.

Sincerely,

The North San Juan Advisory Committee

 


Attachment A: Supplemental Information

Environmental Impacts
Of particular concern to many members of the community are impacts to the high alpine areas surrounding Rico from off-road motorized use.  Impacts include; noise and air pollution, disturbance of wildlife, disturbance or destruction of fragile high alpine vegetation, excessive trail erosion, and watershed degradation.  There is strong concern that the above mentioned impacts occurring from certain unmanaged, motorized, local, single track routes are creating irreparable damage to the natural resources the San Juan National Forest provides, and the Town of Rico incorporates as an economic resource to our area. Our high alpine ecosystems cannot regenerate as quickly as they can be destroyed, and without Travel Management prescriptions which aid in the protection national forest, these impacts may continue to deteriorate our high alpine areas. 

Economic Impacts
So much of what makes Rico unique is the Town’s position on Environmental Protection. The Rico Regional Master plan specifically states that the protection and enhancement of natural environmental resources is a priority. This is articulated through the facilitation of goals and development plans that promote a passive recreational experience in and around Rico. Additionally, in the Recreational Overview section of the plan it notes that the increasing recreational opportunities offered by Rico’s mountain setting has been identified as playing an important role in the economic health of the community.  Economic assets have been identified through the Town’s unique location to Hwy 145, National Scenic Byway (The San Juan Skyway), and through the hiking, biking, camping, fishing and big-game hunting activities taking place in or around Rico as significant economic boosts to the local economy (p.24).
The Colorado Department of Wildlife (CDOW) has supplemented the importance of this passive recreation emphasis by providing data which shows that passive recreation aids in the retention of high concentrations of wildlife, particularly American elk, in the high alpine areas immediately adjacent to the Rico area.  Unit 71, the hunting unit encompassing the Rico 3 mile focus area, shows the highest summer concentration of American elk in the Southwest area. Additionally, Fish and Game have recently been monitoring Lynx activity in the north end of Town. As you may recall, the north end of town was subject to a land exchange proposal but since has required more field research as the Lynx seems to have a well establish presence in the area.
Biodiversity and an abundance of healthy wildlife is something that both our hunting and tourism economies have identified as resources to economically capitalize on. The Committee seeks to provide recommendations that limit the noise and presence of motorized recreational impacts on these areas. The recommendation is designed to reduce the disturbance of wildlife migration patterns, and reduce motorized use in areas where mating, calving and general reproduction is known to consistently occur with wildlife populations.  The high country surrounding Rico is renowned for its excellent elk hunting opportunities as well as spectacular scenery in the fall and the promotion of a passive recreational experience will aid in the retention of these wildlife populations and protect the economic resources which offer such a large asset through the Town’s close proximity to these high alpine areas.  

Several unique geological features also make the Rico area special. Structures such as fens exist around Rico. These fens produce a highly organic matter called peat and support a rich variety of plant life.  Vegetation species of high concern and importance have been identified in the area by regional academic and scientific institutions, as you may recall, our own Wetlands Study offers some of this same information. These features add to the richness and ecological biodiversity of the area which in turn aids in sustaining pristine looking areas and abundant wildlife.
Our wildflowers and beautiful aspens forests are a treat for visitors to the area, and boost the tourism economy in the fall.   Due to Rico’s topography, many streams and wetlands exist. These areas are fragile in nature and already have difficulty growing back quickly in the harsh climate. The recommendations made by this Committee are focused around reducing extensive damage to pristine alpine meadows as well as preventing damage to water courses and forested understory that can often be done by motorized use. Some damage that has been done in the higher alpine areas could be irreversible if not corrected soon. 
The forest around Rico provides our community with the most national forest surrounding almost any other community within the San Juan National Forest area. The leaders of this community have emphasized the importance of retaining high quality forested areas around the Town of Rico through stringent Land Use and Master Plan documents and regulations, and the Committee seeks to provide a recommendation that supports those efforts.
People come to Rico to avoid crowds and to enjoy a peaceful mountain experience. At this time, the Town of Rico is able to provide that experience and in return reaps benefit economically from the existence of this environment. The retention of passive forms of recreation like hiking, biking, wildlife viewing, big game hunting, and fishing are important assets to continue to support.  A travel management plan that aids in the decrease of pollution to air quality and water sources is a priority as well. 
 
Exaggerating these points is the realization that as populations and users in the area continue to increase, so will the impacts to the San Juan National Forest.   When routes remain un-maintained and eroded, they become difficult to negotiate with motorized vehicles and users tend to create new trails of their own. One focus of this Committees’ work is to eliminate the existence of these “renegade” trails which can result in further resource damage. 


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