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Controversial trails plan for Silverton is open for public comment

30 new miles of singletrack for mountain bikes, new dirt bike road top concerns
The Bureau of Land Management’s proposed trails plan has elicited strong opinions from the public. Another round of public comment opens this week and ends Feb. 22.

Have an opinion about how trails and motorized routes should be handled around Silverton? Now is the time to voice it.

The Bureau of Land Management has been re-evaluating its system of 45 miles of trails and roads in the mountains around Silverton in what is called a travel management plan.

The BLM on Wednesday opened a public comment period that ends Feb. 22 for people to weigh in on the agency’s preliminary environmental assessment that analyzes five alternative management strategies.

The BLM held a previous public comment period in the summer at the outset of the process.

Since the BLM began to re-evaluate its trails system, parts of the management plan have stirred controversy.

The BLM has proposed creating 30 miles of new singletrack trails, mainly for mountain biking, just north of Silverton, in an area known locally as Storm Mountain and Boulder Mountain.

The proposed system of trails was created by two mountain biking advocacy groups – Silverton Singletrack Society and the International Mountain Biking Association – that say the new trails would fill a need around Silverton for more biking opportunities.

Supporters say there are less than 10 miles of official singletrack trails around Silverton. The proposed new trails, to be called the Baker’s Park Trail System, would provide much-needed mileage geared toward mountain bikers, and the trails would be open to foot traffic.

The proposed plan has received some criticism from Silverton locals, who say adding 30 miles of trails in the high country could bring more damaging traffic to the fragile alpine tundra, as well as adversely affect wildlife and the environment.

The BLM’s plan also aroused strong emotions from the public over a proposed new route for dirt bikes over alpine tundra at the top of Minnie Gulch, which would essentially connect County Road 24 and Forest Service Road 917 near Stony Pass.

As it currently stands, County Road 24 dead-ends up Minnie Gulch. In the 1.75 miles between the county road and Forest Service Road 917, there is little trace of a trail, which is open to non-motorized use.

The proposal to allow dirt bikes has raised concerns that it will compromise the fragile high country and degrade prime elk habitat by creating more traffic. The entire board of San Juan County commissioners has come out against the proposal.

“It’s pristine alpine tundra up there,” County Commissioner Scott Fetchenheir said in October. “We’re totally against allowing motorized travel there. And I’m a dirt-biker. But I also want some areas untouched.”

Dirt bike advocate groups, for their part, have said connecting the two roads would create a loop to allow for more dirt bike travel.

“We’ll try to mitigate whatever damage we can by going around the (wetlands),” Clive Heller, a member of San Juan Trail Riders, said previously.

The BLM said in a news release the proposed plan also considers the addition of about 12 miles of existing roads and trails for public use that were not designated in previous planning efforts. The plan also considers the use of electric bicycles on mountain bike trails within the project area.

The preliminary environmental assessment is available on BLM’s e-planning site at https://go.usa.gov/xmMab or in hard copy at the Gunnison Field Office.

Comments can be submitted through the BLM e-planning site or mailed to the Gunnison Field Office, Attn: Silverton TMP Comment, 210 West Spencer Ave, Gunnison, CO 81230.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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