| A 2001 forest management
plan appears to be playing out
well in the Molas Pass area. Pictured is the area south
“donut hole,” a 200-acre space around Andrews
Lake which has been designated as off-limits to snowmobile
After nearly two seasons, motorized users,
skiers, mushers and others have found a comfortable middle ground
on the popular winter recreation area around Molas Pass. However,
a lawsuit continues to press for the return of motorized use
on 200 acres around Andrews Lake.
In the early summer of 2001, the San Juan National Forest and
San Juan Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management created
an area that’s come to be known as the “donut hole.”
Courtesy of a long-awaited Forest Management Plan, this 200-acre
skier-friendly area around Andrews Lake was declared off-limits
to snowmobiles. Easy access has made the 7,100-acre Molas Pass
area, 42 miles north of Durango, popular among snowmobilers,
Nordic skiers, showshoers, backcountry skiers and a commercial
cat skiing operation.
Now, after a roughly two-season trial, users from all sides
of this spectrum appear to be pleased with the arrangement.
|One of the signs surrounding the area,
Forest Service is actively monitoring
for incursions. /Photos courtesy San Juan Forest.
“It’s working out pretty well,” said Richard
Speegle, recreation project leader with the Columbine Ranger
District. Speegle said that the nonmotorized area will become
particularly relevant in light of Durango Mountain Resort’s
planned 1,600 unit expansion. “A lot of those folks will
be looking to do more than ski,” he said. “It’s
not unusual in the West to have more people coming in and trying
to use a shrinking area.”
Speegle noted that for the most part, the closure has been
observed. “Generally, people respect it,” he said.
“We’ve been keeping an eye on things, and there
have not been too many intrusions. We feel like we’re
going to have more presence in terms of monitoring in the future.”
In the near future, the Forest Service and BLM also are planning
on completing other prescriptions in the plan, specifically
building two additional parking lots. One lot will be built
at Little Molas Lake to expand options for snowmobilers and
another skier-oriented lot will be built at Andrews Lake, according
Jim Lokey, the vice-president of the Silverton Snowmobile Club
and the man responsible for grooming the Molas Pass trails,
agreed that relations between user groups have been smooth.
“It’s working fantastically,” Lokey said.
“We’ve got a lot of happy people up here.”
Lokey also runs a commercial operation at Big Molas Lake and
says users, including snowmobilers, skiers, dog mushers and
ice fishermen, are being respectful of one another.
“I’m there every day, and I have yet to see anyone
go into the closure area,” he said. “If there’s
any complaint, I’d sure like to know about it.”
Mark Pearson, executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance,
went up and skied at Andrews Lake on Monday. He said the closure
has made for a greatly improved ski experience. “It’s
a noticeable improvement from past years,” Pearson said.
“The track around the highway and the lake is not all
frozen snowmobile track, and the area south of Andrews Lake
is free of snowmobiles. It’s really created a nice sanctuary
for people who don’t want to be around the noise and smell
However, a lawsuit initiated by the Silverton Snowmobile Club
and being carried out by the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition
(COHVCO) is working its way through the courts. The suit challenging
the management plan and specifically the 200-acre nonmotorized
area was filed in February of last year. In a written statement,
D. Andrew Wight, COHVCO staff attorney commented, “A couple
of bad snow years in the late 1990s caused an influx of nonmotorized
users into Molas Pass from lower elevation areas with no snow.
A single letter to the editor of the Durango Herald from an
out-of-state visitor, complaining about snowmobiles, set the
ball in motion, and the federal agencies set about to shut us
out of Molas Pass.”
Pearson noted that the San Juan Citizens’ Alliance has
intervened in the case.
“We’re essentially supporting the Forest Service
decision to make these minor modifications and point out that
they could have gone much further and put the whole area east
of the road off-limits to snowmobiles,” he said.
Wight made it clear that COHVCO is not pleased with the San
Juan Citizens Alliance’s intervention, and wrote, “These
groups would like to see the motorized community shut out entirely
from the public lands, so any time the government restricts
us, for whatever half-baked reason, the ‘environmental’
organizations rise up to defend the government (it’s a
little ironic, don’t you think?).”
The case has been assigned to Robert E. Blackburn on the federal
However, as local users await the outcome of the slow-moving
case, terms appear to be friendly up at Molas Pass. “The
lawsuit hasn’t been resolved, but I think the Silverton
Snowmobile Club is working well with us,” said Speegle.
Lokey added, “Probably the biggest problem is that we