San Juan Hut Systems’ permit has been in existence since 1987. Ryan has 16 huts scattered over 20,000 square miles in southwestern Colorado and Utah. Currently permitted uses include hut-to-hut skiing in the winter and mountain biking in the summer. He would like to add a horse component to his summer business along the Dallas/Alder Creek Trail.
Ryan has applied for a permit to allow his plan to move forward, and has been denied by local USFS officials three times over the past three years. This time around, he is rallying more allies to his cause, including the Ouray City Council and the Ouray County Board of Commissioners. Both entities have indicated willingness over the past week to write letters in support of Ryan’s application.
Ryan proposes to hire outfitter Francis Post (known to many in the area simply as “Fencepost”) as a subcontractor to run two-night trail rides along the San Juan Hut System with up to six “dudes,” or paying riders, and two guides, once a week throughout the summer season.
Riders would begin their adventure in the Miller Mesa/ Elk Meadows area at the terminus of County Road 5 in Ouray County, and end their ride at Last Dollar Pass, spending the night at two backcountry huts along the way.
The Dallas/Alder Creek trail is deemed by the USFS to be a horse-legal trail, meaning that any non-commercial rider or group of riders may use the trail as frequently as they desire. At issue is whether Ryan should be allowed to conduct a commercial outfitting operation along the trail.
“It would be one trip a week at most,” Ryan said. “It’s a pretty low impact trip; we don’t need a lot of support, and we’d be utilizing huts that have been in place now for 25 years. We look at this as a way to increase the economic activity in our area, and we think it’s a proper use of the trail. It’s a use by right. We think it would stimulate a little bit of economic activity around here. Nobody can understand why we’re not being given this permit.”
In the past, one reason the Forest Service has given for rejecting Ryan’s permit application was that his proposal triggered National Environmental Policy Act concerns and needed to undergo an Environmental Impact Statement.
Ryan has maintained that this is nonsense. “It’s a horse-legal trail from stem to stern,” he told Ouray City Council Monday; moreover, he said, an EIS would cost upwards of $40,000 to execute.
Ryan told council he had consulted with a prominent NEPA documentation group out of Utah which confirmed it had “never seen an environmental assessment done for a simple trail ride” before.
One of the underlying reasons Ryan’s encountered opposition could be his choice of outfitter, whom District Ranger Tammy Randall-Parker described as “unsavory” in a recent conversation with Ouray County Commissioner Lynn Padgett. Randall-Parker alleged to the commissioners that Post had been arrested, or issued a citation, for illegally guiding an outfit near the Bachelor Syracuse mine, where he conducts rides in the summer.
Ryan speculated that another reason his permit had been denied in the past was because of an alleged hostile encounter between Post, Randall-Parker and her husband when Post was leading a trail ride, again near the Bachelor Syracuse mine.
This time around, Ryan is pulling out the big guns to usher his Special Use Permit application through the Forest Service review process. In addition to letters of support that local government entities have committed to write, he has also enlisted the support of U.S. senatorial and congressional staffers to follow the matter.
Members of the Ouray City Council appeared sympathetic to Ryan’s argument; no representatives of the USFS were present at the meeting to offer their perspective on the matter.
Mayor Bob Risch said he “can’t imagine the impact [of Ryan’s proposed trail ride operation] will be significant in any way whatsoever” and directed staff to draft a letter of support to Randall-Parker.
Ryan asked that a copy of the letter be sent to him as well, “because things tend to disappear at the Forest Service.”
Speaking of the matter on Tuesday this week, Padgett conceded that Ryan himself can be perceived by many as “hard to deal with. There’s probably no angels in the bunch,” she said. “But if you’re going to accuse somebody of being unsavory, you should have documentation. That should just be part of the process. You can’t accuse people of stuff without documentation.”