Forest sees spike in ORV damage

Major growth in all-terrain vehicle and dirt bike use is forcing the Forest Service’s hand. New restrictions on Off-Road Vehicles are now in place nationwide. Locally, the San Juan National Forest is seeing a spike in accidents and resource damage, and the agency is asking ORV operators to shape up.

Nationally, the number of ORV users has climbed dramatically, jumping from five million in 1972 to 36 million in 2000. This growth, combined with increasing use of public lands, prompted the Forest Service to release a new rule last summer. As a result, each forest was required to designate a system of roads, trails and areas slated for motor vehicle use. ORV use was then confined to designated roads and trails and cross-country travel would be prohibited.

This system had been in place on the San Juan National Forest for a number of years. However, local officials are still seeing a rapid increase in negative impacts from ORVs. The forest reported a number of recent accidents and many instances of motorized vehicles driving illegally off roads and trails on local national forest and BLM lands.

“We are experiencing an overall increase in ATV and motorcycle use,” said Pauline Ellis, Columbine District Ranger. “Although most people ride safely and are respectful of the land and others, some riders are creating driving hazards and serious resource damage.  We’re seeing vegetation in meadows being torn up by wheel tracks, and tracks cut straight up steep slopes, which will become erosion gullies when the rains come.” Problems have increased exponentially in the La Plata Canyon, South Mineral Canyon, Upper Hermosa, Middle Mountain and Alpine Loop areas, according to Ellis.

Campers north of Durango have also lodged complaints that ATV riders are joyriding through campgrounds. A serious motorcycle accident occurred recently on Middle Mountain, north of Vallecito, where riders were not wearing helmets. And while Forest Service staff responded recently to ATVs riding off road illegally near Silverton, the agency is largely asking riders to police themselves, asking them to “Tread Lightly.”

“This absence of enforcement is the reason we will continue to see resource damage on local and national public lands,” according to Clare Bastabel, Western Slope coordinator for the Colorado Mountain Club. She said that without enforcement, the regulations are meaningless.

“I think one of the main issues we have is that the rules are only beneficial if they are effectively implemented on the ground,” she said. “The Forest Service has not to our knowledge asked for an increase in funding to improve on-the-ground management, including enforcement.”

County enacts fire restrictions

In the wake of increasingly dry conditions and the onset of fire season, La Plata County commissioners voted to enact fire restrictions this week.

The restrictions prohibit open burning, burn barrels and agricultural burning on private property throughout La Plata County. The use of a camp fire, coal or wood-burning stove, any type of charcoal grill, or open fire in any undeveloped area is banned. Use of explosives and internal combustion engines without spark arrestors are also prohibited.

Restrictions do not apply to charcoal fires in suitable containers, gas grills or fires within designated campground pits with protective grates. However, the country encourages residents and visitors to keep a close eye on these fires and not leave them unattended.

The fire restrictions were enacted by the commissioners upon the recommendation of Sheriff Duke Schirard and the chiefs of the local fire districts. They will remain in effect until the threat of fire danger has reduced significantly.

Meanwhile, last week fire crews got the upper hand on the two most significant fires in the region, the Trail East and Dwelling fires. One-hundred percent containment was announced on both fires last Thursday. The Trail East Fire was located near Mancos and the Dwelling fire spread through the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, though only minimal archeological damage was reported.

In spite of fire lines preventing the spread of the blazes, crews were battling flare ups and continuing mop up efforts. Mop up is the process whereby crews painstakingly located and extinguish residual heat sources within the fire lines.  

Current cost of the suppression efforts are $1.9 million for the Trail East Fire and $378,000 for the Dwelling Fire.

Fund established for Lindsay Eppich

Durango is again reaching out to a community member who has fallen on hard times. On July 16, Lindsay Eppich was struck late at night on the Animas River Trail by a man riding a motorcycle. A financial support fund has been established to help the Eppich family. The fund will help with Eppich’s college expenses and any shortfall in her medical coverage.

“Many, many people have been calling us, asking if there’s something that can be done to help,” said Molly Martin, a longtime friend of the Eppichs. “Right now, this is a token of what all of us who care about Lindsay and her family can do to help.”  

Eppich grew up in Durango, graduated from Durango High in 2004 and attends the University of Colorado at Boulder. On July 16, she suffered multiple, serious injuries when a motorbike struck her on the Animas River Trail near Santa Rita Park. She was air-lifted to Grand Junction’s St. Mary’s Hospital.

 “Anyone who knows Lindsay knows she’s one of the most talented and determined young women on the planet,” said Indiana Reed, friend and neighbor of the Eppichs.  “When you give her a challenge, she meets it, no matter what, so with prayers and support from everyone who loves her, we’ll be seeing her smiling face back here in Durango in no time.”

To contribute to Lindsay’s Fund, make checks payable to the “Lindsay Eppich Fund” and drop them by or mail them to the Bank of the San Juans, 144 E. 8th St., Durango, CO, 81301

Three school board seats available

A change of the guard could be coming to the Durango School District 9-R Board of Education. Three seats are up for election on the school board, and prospective candidates can pick up a nomination petition beginning Aug. 3. The petitions must be filed by Aug. 26.

The three director districts include District C, currently filled by Steve Short; District E, filled by Chris Paulson; and District F, filled by Roy Horvath. Election Day is Nov. 1 and successful candidates will serve four-year terms.

To be eligible for the ballot, a candidate must have resided in the school district for the past 12 months, be a registered voter in the school district for the past 12 months, and reside in the director district for which they are running.  Director district boundary maps are available online at or from the board clerk at the District 9-R Central Administration Building, 201 E. 12th St., Durango, Colo. For more information call 247-5411, Ext. 1448.

– compiled by Will Sands