Columbine District adjusts land-use rules

Agency tweaks travel methods in La Plata Canyon, Junction Creek

The Columbine Ranger District of the San Juan National Forest has released a new report indicating which roads and trails are open to motorized vehicles in the La Plata Canyon and Junction Creek corridors.

The area encompasses 82.5 square miles northwest of Durango.

Under a rule issued in 2005 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, all 155 national forests and 20 grasslands must survey their land and decide where cars, trucks, all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes are permissible.

The Columbine District has broken its 1,080 square mile territory into smaller units and analyzed them incrementally. La Plata Canyon-Junction Creek is the fourth area to be completed, after Vallecito-Lemon reservoirs, Sauls Creek-Beaver Meadows and the HD Mountains, said wilderness manager Nancy Berry.

First proposed in July 2010, the final report, which was released Monday, was two years in the making. An informational meeting was held in May 2011 and followed by a 30-day public comment period in November.

“All the scoping out and gathering input is time consuming,” Berry said. “We hope to finish (the entire Columbine District) in a couple of years.”

An environmental assessment concluded the changes will have no “significant impact” on habitats, wildlife or sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jimbo Buickerood, a public lands coordinator with the San Juan Citizens Alliance, was pleased unnecessary routes with little recreational value are being phased out.

“The Forest Service is making an effort to close and decommission roads that are duplicative or poorly engineered or expensive to maintain,” he said. “They’re looking at every mile, doing a cost-versus-benefit analysis, and deciding ‘these (routes) should stay open, these should be solely administrative, these should be decommissioned.’”

Effective immediately, changes include:

All “cross-country travel” (driving vehicles off-trail into undefined wilderness areas) is prohibited to prevent degradation.

Side routes in La Plata Canyon – Madden, North Bedrock, South Bedrock, Neptune, Boren and Basin creek trails – are reclassified from open roads to motorized trails because of steepness, obstacles and switchbacks. The change will encourage high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicles and discourage low-clearance, long wheel-base passenger vehicles.

Dispersed camping (outside developed campgrounds) in La Plata Canyon is permitted in designated sites only, within one-quarter mile of County Road 124 on each side. Designated sites are: Bay City, Miner’s Cabin, Madden, La Plata City, Lewis Creek, Darby and Columbus.

All motorized vehicles have seasonal access to Junction Creek, Neglected Mine, Oro Fino Mine, and Champion Ventures roads.

New seasonal closure dates for all Junction Creek area Forest Service roads: low elevation Jan. 1-April 30, high elevation Dec. 1-May 30.

Existing ban on dispersed camping along the lower portion of Junction Creek Road will continue because of high traffic.

Junction Creek Campground and Junction Creek Road (between Logchutes Trailhead and Animas Overlook) are closed to off-road vehicles, but they can be trailered to the Animas Overlook parking lot and ridden from there.

With work in La Plata Canyon and Junction Creek complete, the district’s attention will now shift to Forest Service land around Hermosa. After that, Missionary Ridge and Silverton are the final pieces of the puzzle.

lgroskopf@durangoherald.com

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