By Alex Menard
It began quietly and slowly, barely noticeable. But, each year the same processional theme was repeated with a faster tempo and more volume. The theme assumed a harsh, incessant, menacing, out of control quality. This is not a music review of Ravel’s Bolero, rather the history of ATV use on the Lead King Loop.
At some point, the unwanted music triggered enough complaints to warrant consideration of action by the town of Marble, Gunnison County and federal agencies. This took the form of the Lead King Loop (LKL) Committee, which has now met for more than three years. This process will end very soon and may end with nothing having been accomplished. A decision must be made before spring and will stand for many years, as the LKL Committee will claim they have gone through the process.
The multiple-use policy of the U.S. Forest Service means that all recreation user groups are accommodated and precludes finding some uses incompatible with others. Recently, the Forest Service closed part of Four Mile Road to winter users because of logging operations, but they don’t feel that the noise, dust, fumes, aggressive driving, trail erosion, dispersal of wildlife, monopolizing of trailhead parking spaces and trampling of vegetation is incompatible with quieter sorts of recreation.
Do not confuse necessary with sufficient policies. A ban on ATVs and trail bikes on the LKL is not a sufficient policy to manage all the problems. But an ATV ban is necessary for successful management. Tom Sobal, of the Quiet Use Coalition, has studied ATV use since the beginning. He says, “Whenever ATV use starts on a trail, other users decrease to zero.”
The LKL is an exception. Because of the scenic, natural and historic qualities, the LKL will always draw new visitors, unaware of what they are in for. The Crystal Mill is iconic, which will continue to attract visitors from across the nation. Meanwhile, most quiet use locals have written off the LKL from their trail inventory. The 13 miles of the LKL are traveled in less than an hour on a trail bike and a little more for an ATV. There is no possibility for dispersal; it is the only trail. ATV use is not a good fit here, even if you ignore all their impacts on the environment and other users.
Even the very utilitarian agency, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), mainly concerned with mineral extraction and grazing, has policies to protect special places. The BLM recognizes Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), which are areas of special environmental, recreational or historical value, or areas of heavy impact. Isn’t LKL, a special place experiencing high impact, in fact an ACEC?
The town of Marble and Gunnison County conditioned their action on a cooperative agreement with the Forest Service. This may preclude any effective solutions. In contrast, Pitkin County recognized its responsibility to protect environmental quality for residents and visitors. They took the initiative and told the Forest Service that they wished to close some county roads to off highway vehicle (OHV) use and received the Forest Service’s cooperation. Problem solved. If the Forest Service does not act, Gunnison County and Marble should step up. Closing County Road 3 (CR3) to OHV use would greatly reduce impacts on the LKL and Marble.
There is a proposed parking ordinance within Marble town limits, which would prohibit truck or trailer parking for OHV unloading. After the April election for town trustees, this may be presented for a vote. This could effectively eliminate OHV use in town and on the LKL by nonresidents if a similar ordinance is adopted for CR3 by the county. If turned down by the trustees, the ordinance could be put on a special ballot for residents this summer. This would greatly reduce OHV impacts.
This is the last chance to save the Upper Crystal Valley for quiet enjoyment and environmental quality. I urge you not to wait for a decision, only to be disappointed. Instead contact Gunnison County and the town of Marble now, and urge them to take the initiative. You can tell them if you are not a constituent, but this valley is still your backyard.
Gunnison County Commissioners: