Local motorized mecca in the works

Off-road vehicles could get their own playground on the San Juan National Forest. The San National Forest Service is giving thought to enhancing motorized recreation opportunities in the Missionary Ridge area, and gauging public opinion this week.

In July of 2004, the Forest Service announced that it would be taking steps to reduce damage to public lands from off-road vehicles, including all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes. The announcement came in response to huge growth in motorsports in just a few years and the appearance of more than 60,000 miles of renegade ORV trails on national forest lands throughout the nation. At the time, Forest Service chief Dale Bosworth proclaimed that ORV abuse was a top threat to national forests and ordered regional and local offices to confine ORV use to designated roads and trails and prohibit cross-country travel.

San Juan National Forest is taking a roundabout approach to Bosworth’s order. Rather than cracking down on illegal ORV use or further policing the vehicles, the Forest Service hopes to enhance the experience in certain areas and create routes specifically for off-highway vehicles.

“We’re looking at making a trail system where ORVs can travel,” explained Nancy Berry, recreation forester, when the plan was announced last year. “There has been a big increase in motorized use and there have been problems. Now, the goal is to get the use onto designated routes and keep people out of the delicate areas. I think it’ll be good for everyone.”

As part of the travel management process, the San Juan National Forest is currently looking at the “Lakes” area as that ORV sanctuary. The Lakes encompasses a large portion of Missionary Ridge as well as Lemon and Vallecito reservoirs and the Middle Mountain and East Florida areas. The San Juan Trail Riders, a local advocacy group for motorized users, was instrumental in spotlighting the Lakes area.

When it was announced, the approach for the Lakes landscape was hailed by a variety of users as an intelligent solution to an impasse. Trails 2000 supported the effort to concentrate ORV use on that section of Missionary Ridge, arguing it will eliminate user conflicts elsewhere in the forest.

This week, the public has an opportunity to weigh-in on the creation of a local motorized mecca. On July 11, the Forest Service held a public meeting at the Vallecito Community Center, and interested Durangoans have a chance to weigh in from 6: 30-8:30 p.m. July 12 at the San Juan Public Lands Center, in the Durango Tech Center. More information on plans for the Lakes landscape is available by calling Mary Blanchard at 385-1319.

Mining set to make Silverton return

Hardrock mining appears to be making a comeback in Silverton. The Pride of the West ore-processing mill recently changed hands and is expected to be back in operation by Christmas.

The mill, located at Howardsville, 4 miles from Silverton, has been sold to Colorado Goldfields at a cost of $900,000. Todd Hennis, Colorado Goldfields’ president and chief executive officer, explained the purchase to theSilverton Standard and the Miner, saying the Pride of the West is the only functional ore mill within 100 miles. Gold and silver prices are high, and Hennis expects them to rise.

Hennis, who has 26 years of mining and metals experience, said the short-term plan is to process ore provided by the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal and state agencies that have environmental clean-up materials in need of milling. Hennis also said he sees untapped potential in the Gold King, Mogul and Echo mines, as well as others. He told theStandard that he expects the mill to operate for 20 years.

For the sale to go through, the buyer wanted undisputed clear title to the land. The county had thought of using the old railroad grade through the property as a trail, but county commissioners, in a 2-to-1 vote, disclaimed any interest in the railroad right of way.

The dissenting commissioner, Peter McKay, objected to the hasty nature of the decision. The commissioners were informed of the demand for a disclaimer only minutes beforehand and were told that failing it, they might face a lawsuit – or the mill would be taken apart and moved to Mexico. On the other hand, commissioner Ernie Kuhlman, a one-time miner, said he wouldn’t let a railroad right-of-way stand in the way of renewed mining. Silverton’s last mine closed roughly a decade ago.

County manager tenders resignation

Just weeks after Durango City Manager Bob Ledger announced his resignation, La Plata County’s top administrative official is also stepping down. This week, County Manager Michael Scannell announced his resignation effective Sept. 4.

Scannell has served eight years as La Plata County manager, assuming the position in 1999, He also spent 29 years as a county government employee. “It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the people of La Plata County in my role as county manager over the last eight years, and I look forward to pursuing other interests and spending more time with my family, who have supported me all these years,” Scannell remarked.

On Tuesday, Wally White, chair of the La Plata County Board of Commissioners, offered words of praise to the outgoing manager.

“We are grateful for the nearly eight years of outstanding service that Michael has provided to La Plata County,” White said. “Michael has ensured sound stewardship of the County’s financial resources and assets, improved our organizational efficiency and effectiveness, provided oversight for a number of important capital projects, built strong working relationships at the local and state level, and worked closely with elected officials, department heads and employees to improve customer service. We have made great strides thanks to his leadership and his expertise.”

White also announced that county commissioners intend to use an executive search firm to help in the recruitment of a new manager. He added that Assistant County Manager Joanne Spina would serve as interim county manager until a new county manager is appointed.

Crews successfully contain Bear Fire

The largest local wildfire so far this season has been successfully contained. Crews successfully surrounded the 1,526-acre Bear Fire on Tuesday.

The fire was first reported southwest of Durango on Sunday afternoon. The lightning-triggered blaze rapidly grew to 1,000 acres, eventually destroying one home and forcing 10 families to evacuate that same day.

However, crews responded quickly and began constructing and reinforcing a fire line around the perimeter. On Tuesday, they reached 100 percent containment, meaning that the fire was still burning but could no longer spread. Crews continued mop-up operations and Incident Commander Ron Klatt expected to have the fire controlled by the end of the shift on Wednesday evening. Aircraft, which had been working the fire for two days, were released Tuesday evening to become available for other fires. The cost of fighting the fire was estimated at nearly $276,000.

With the coming weeks in mind, fire managers urged Southwest Colorado residents to be extremely careful with fire due to the dry conditions and the strain on fire resources in the West.

– compiled by Will Sands