NORWOOD – Recreational mountain bikers, motorcyclists, hikers and horseback riders may soon have a new 17.5-mile trail system to take advantage of near Norwood. The Norwood Ranger District is currently seeking comments on the Thunder Trails Project, which would meet an increasing public demand for a public trail system near the town.
“We see this as a real asset to the public,” says Norwood District Ranger Judy Schutza. “I want people to understand what this is and I do want people to comment so we can build what they want.”
Back in the spring of 2005, the Norwood Ranger District was approached by a group of motorcycle and mountain biking enthusiasts about creating a single track trail system that could be easily accessed by riders in and around Norwood. But one question remained: Where?
“We’d been thinking about a single track for a long time, but nobody was coming up with ideas,” said Schutza.
Four years later, members of the same group did a site walk of the Thunder Road area with District Recreation Manager Scott Spielman, who saw possibilities for such a trail system in that area, according to Schutza. As a result, a 17.5-mile trail proposal was introduced to the public for a thirty-day scoping period on Sept 24, 2010. From that, five main “cause and effect” issues were distilled out of the 130 comments that were received. Those issues included:
* loss of motorized access and recreation opportunities in the area;
* potential trail conflicts among different types of users – among them motorcycle riders, mountain bikers, hikers and equestrian users;
* impacts on permitted livestock operations in the area;
* trail management and resource concerns involving motorized travel; and
* motorcycle disturbance to big game during the fall, particularly in Goshorn Creek drainage, where a proposed crossing would have linked up the trails with East Naturita Road, near Miramonte Reservoir.
The Forest Service then developed a 50-page environmental assessment that is now available for public comment, in which they developed alternatives to the original proposal to respond to the five issues identified.
All four alternatives include the decommission of 23 miles of non-system trails, or user-created trails, which the Forest Service identified for decommissioning back in 2002 when they established the 2002 Uncompahgre Travel Plan decision. Implementation of that plan began in 2004, with varying degrees of success, but efforts to discourage continued use of those non-system trails have been largely ignored by users. As a result, more aggressive methods will be implemented, such as gates, fencing, and placement of boulders or earth berms.
Regardless of the alternative chosen, private landowners and the Lone Cone Ditch company “would be afforded motorized access to their private land or facilities,” according to the EA. Furthermore, self-closing gates and other devices would be installed to help ranchers maintain control over livestock and mitigate impacts by people recreating in those same areas.
“We’re trying not to have any adverse impacts on existing uses,” said Schutza.
In brief, alternatives proposed in the Thunder Trails Environmental Assessment include the following:
* Alternative One would keep the 8.7-mile Thunder Road as is, aside from the already planned closers of non-system trails. Existing uses by full-size vehicles, ATVs, motorcycles, bicycles, horses, walkers, hunters and campers would remain the same, and no single-track trails would be built.
* Alternative Two is the same plan presented during the scoping period, with the exception of the link up of trails through Goshorn Creek and E. Naturita Rd., where the EA determined a significant big game wildlife corridor exists. Nearby private land also contains sage grouse breeding areas, which could be impacted by people riding on trails. A total of 17.5 miles of single track would be developed and available for public use from May 1-Nov. 15, a trailhead parking area would be installed, and 20-30 designated campsites would be established on E. Naturita Rd.
* Alternative Three would establish additional designated dispersed campgrounds along a two-mile section of the Thunder Rd. corridor from the trail head south to the Mexican Spring area. Thunder Rd. would remain open to all motorized travel.
* And Alternative Four, meant to be a compromise between all the issues, would include designated camping both at the trail head and on East Naturita Rd., but would close 3.2 miles of Thunder Rd. to motorized travel. Furthermore, two of the four sections of the trail system would be subject to seasonal closures to accommodate big game security during the fall months.
Depending on the alternative chosen, the cost is estimated to range from $63,350 for Alternative One to $156,080 for Alternative Four, with funds coming from within the Forest Service as well as from grants that would be applied for.
As part of its Thunder Trails EA, the Forest Service evaluated how the proposed trail system might impact wildlife, including big game, Mexican spotted owl, Northern goshawk, Sage sparrow, Gunnison sage grouse, Olive-sided flycatcher, Lewis’ woodpecker, and Brewer’s sparrow. It also took into consideration significant prehistoric sites that were once occupied by Native American use of the area, which contain evidence such as scarred trees, stone tools, chipping debris, Ute brownware pottery, hearths, and a few brush or stone structures.
“We have a concern about overuse,” said Schutza. “This is close to town. We really need to take care of it. We see this as an opportunity [for people] to take pride” in this asset to the community.
“Monitoring is an important part of the whole project. We’re very concerned that people might be tempted to ride off designated trails and we want to strongly discourage that. That’s where the public can play a part… Self management is what we hope to see.”
Public comments regarding the EA and proposed alternatives are due by Monday, Aug. 8.
A plan is expected to be finalized by the end of August, followed by a 45-day appeal period. Assuming no appeal is filed, implementation of the Thunder Trails Project would begin in 2012,
For the EA, the Forest Service consulted with several organizations, including San Miguel Bike Alliance, West End Sledders, Colorado Wild, Sheep Mountain Alliance, Motorcycle Trail Riders Association, Thunder Mountain Wheelers, Public Access Preservation Association, West End Mountain Bike Alliance, Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association, Uncompahgre Valley Trail Riders, Western Slope Fourwheelers, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Hi Country Motorsports, and Bookcliff Rattlers Motorcycle Club, as well as grazing permittees, and private landowners.
Written comments on the EA should be mailed or hand delivered to: Norwood Ranger District, Attn: Judy Schutza, 1150 Forest Street, Norwood, CO 81423. Written comments via facsimile or email should be sent to Fax 970/327-4854 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Oral comments via telephone can be made by calling the Norwood office at 970/327-4261. Copies of the EA are available from the Norwood Ranger District or may be viewed online at www.fs.usda.gov/gmug under “Land and Resource Management” and “Projects.”
“The users are the ones who know what they want,” said Schutza, encouraging the public to share its opinion with her office by the Aug. 8 deadline.