June 2016


By Dexter Gill

The wheel goes around and around, where it stops nobody knows! It has no beginning and no end. It has provided the means of transportation for men and women for securing food, wealth, protection and recreational enjoyment since about 3500 B.C., about 6,000 years ago.

Early on, the wheel was powered by man, donkey, oxen, mule and horse, followed by steam and gasoline. The steam and gasoline/diesel-powered wheel has provided the principal means of transportation to develop and build the Western civilization and economy we have grown up in and enjoy today. The ingenuity that our Creator has endowed us with allowed man to use various resources to build the wheel to help us build and enjoy the civilization and environment we have today. Big deal – so what? Well, just who should be allowed to travel and the means of travel and where they can travel have become a big issue with some people. The issue of access and use of the public lands of the State of Colorado is once again facing us.

The Forest Service is proposing its third Travel Management Plan for the Dolores Ranger District. This one is referred to as the Rico-Dolores West Roads and Trails (Travel Management) Project, and encompasses 244,255 acres in Dolores and Montezuma counties. The purpose is to determine, limit and restrict who can access which road or trail by what conveyance and when they will be allowed use of the roads and trails, many of which have existed and been used by the public for over 100 years on these public lands of the state.

The wheel seems to be the bad thing that must now be regulated out of existence or at least use on public lands. The National Forest Management Act of 1976 and subsequent individual Forest Plans promote Increasing Recreational use and development of more recreational roads and trails. The misnamed Travel Management Plan closes roads to recreation and public access and use, eliminates access and use of many roads and trails by any motorized wheeled vehicle, designates some trails that can be used only by certain users and no others.

Wait a big minute, I thought all recreation was to be improved and made more available to all the public. Well, maybe I am confused as to what is recreation. OK, are sightseeing, exploring, picnicking, camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, snow sports, mushroom and berry picking and fuel-wood cutting all recreation? Yes, I did say fuel-wood cutting, as that is many times a multipurpose recreation for families.

The advertisements say “Come enjoy your National Forest” but don’t’ mention that you can only do it when, where and how the Forest Service or BLM allows you to, it’s not yours! The roads and trails that have been constructed over the past 120 years are being closed to the majority of public recreation access and use. The public lands, roads and trails used to all be open for recreation, access and use unless a site-specific area was closed for legitimate reasons. Today they are all closed to travel, access and use unless specifically designated open.

The Travel Management Rule designates what road or trail you are allowed to ride an OHV or motorbike on since some people might not like to hear them. Mountain bikes should not be allowed on some trails because they are quiet and go too fast. Horses are a real hazard, they are slow and leave “stuff ” in the trail. Jeeps and 4x4 pickups are just out since they are too wide for the 12-foot old roads and you might hear them. It is just too bad for the elderly and disabled, I guess we are not supposed to enjoy the outdoors.

Camping is out unless you like to move into the alternative city campgrounds. Picnicking is still OK as long as you park right on the designated busy dirt road. Recreation opportunity and access is being severely reduced by the Travel Management Plans. A couple months ago a group asked the county commissioners for money to leverage a federal grant (our tax money) to design a program to give youth opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Uuuhh, we live in the center of outdoor-recreation heaven, and the federal agencies are reducing, even eliminating outdoor-recreation opportunities, and yet they want to design programs to do what they are eliminating? What am I missing?

Twenty five years ago I gave a commencement address to a college class of graduating foresters. I told them that if they went to work for the federal government, their job would be managing and controlling people, not forest resource management. That is what the Travel Management Plans (TMPs) do. They are actually Travel Restriction Plans (TRPs).

The productive working forests of the state are being converted into “Central Park West,” where the people can be confined to specific-use areas and designated trails and controlled. We seek to promote more recreation opportunity, but bad management rules are compressing the growing recreationists’ numbers into smaller areas, accelerating resource damage, reducing the quality of recreation experience, and creating social animosity between differing recreation interests.

The roads, trails and camping access in the Public Lands of the State need to all be open for the diverse recreation use in concert with restoring forest resource management. Here in the good ole USA we all have the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. It is our own personal responsibility to pursue our level of happiness in recreation. It is not the government’s role or authority, to make your recreation experience a happy one, by restricting another person’s recreation experience, all at the expense of declining forest resources and local economy.

Dexter Gill is a retired forest manager who worked for private industry, three Western state forestry agencies, and the Navajo Nation forestry department. He writes from Lewis, Colo.