By Alex Menard
Sopris Sun Correspondent
In about a month, Off Highway Vehicles (OHVs) will return to Marble and the Lead King Loop (LKL) in great numbers. During the annual quiet winter period, the Lead King Loop Working Group (LKLWG) met for over 30 hours to work on management policies. Due to an agreement for silence, even the committee members chosen to represent us have been hesitant to disclose any information about progress. Now, since the OHV return is just ahead, the LKLWG has announced a Listening Session to disclose some results, receive public input and process that input into recommendations.
Melanie Armstrong of the Center for Public Lands, a division of Western Colorado University in Gunnison, is the facilitator of the LKLWG. Melanie made it clear that the group is only an advisory body with no authority to make decisions.
She also stated that the number of management options considered was not comprehensive. For example, an outright ban on Utility Terrain Vehicles (UTVs) was not considered. Melanie explained that this strictly advisory group did not have the requirements that an official decision-making body would have and there were no environmental reviews done.
White River National Forest (WRNF) Sopris District Ranger Kevin Warner stated, “I don’t have information about the numbers of different user groups, including hikers.” Road counters did record vehicle trips, which exceeded 200 on weekends.
Warner explained that twice that volume of vehicle traffic would be required to initiate a change in management, which is based on road carrying capacity and safety issues only. He also stated, “During the last 20 years that I have been here, I have seen the LKL road quality deteriorate to the point that standard forest service trucks have trouble.” During the sessions, it was suggested that the road be downgraded to a trail, suitable for OHVs only.
A new development this winter is the packing of the road to Crystal by a snowcat used by Treasure Mountain Ranch to access the town of Crystal. This has resulted in increased use by UTVs who are able to drive all the way to Crystal on the packed surface. Like the advent and development of OHVs, this is a new use which can expand without consideration of consequences. It is also a violation of the WRNF winter wheeled vehicle closure and may be the beginning of a year-round OHV season on the LKL.
An April election in the town of Marble resulted in a majority of trustees who stated that they would consider a parking ordinance to restrict or ban parking in town for OHV unloading. ‘No Trailer Parking’ signs have appeared on most parking spots in town along with speed bumps.
The only known recommendation to emerge from the working group is the establishment of a parking lot at the base of Daniels Hill. “This idea emerged in the final few hours of the last session, with no discussion of consequences,” according to Terry Havens, LKLWG member and Daniels Hill resident, who resigned in protest. She further stated, “This will not reduce traffic in Marble at all. Trailers will travel through Marble twice and ATVs will travel back to Marble to the restaurant.”
Establishment of a parking lot would take years and would require at least an environmental assessment to determine impact. It would also require consideration of alternatives not addressed by the informal actions of the LKLWG. Stuart Gillespie, spokesman for Treasure Mountain Ranch, has offered private land at the base of Daniels Hill for parking as an interim solution. This proposal has been included by the LKLWG as part of their plan going forward.
Gunnison County Commissioners met with the WRNF on April 26 to discuss OHV use on County Road 3, the only access to the LKL and the only Gunnison County road open to UTVs. They will meet again on May 3 to vote on the isesue, the results of which will be reported next week.
The Listening Session will take place on Thursday, April 28, at 6:30 p.m. at the Marble Fire Station. This may be the last chance to respond to the LKLWG recommendations except for a virtual listening session on Tuesday, May 3, at 4:30 p.m. To participate in the virtual session, send an email to email@example.com