Quick N' Dirty

Three Planning Commission seats open
The La Plata County Comp Plan may be barely cold in the ground, but life is going on for the County Planning Commission. County commissioners announced this week that they are seeking to fill three vacant seats on the eight-member board. Two of those seats were held by regular members, Travis Craig and Wayne Buck. The third seat is an alternate seat which was held by Art Charette, who was dismissed in August.

Craig, who served as the chairman of the commission, is leaving, citing a need for more family time while Buck, whose term is expired, plans on reapplying. Charette was terminated Aug. 23 after an inflammatory letter ran in the Durango Herald that commissioners said violated his duties to be objective and conduct himself professionally.

The Planning Commission, which works on staggered three-year terms, is an advisory board made up of volunteers appointed by the Board of County Commissioners. Under state law, county planning commissions are entrusted with creating comprehensive plans, which serve as guides for future land-use decisions and code. The La Plata County Planning Commission had recently embarked on this task, when it unanimously voted to kill the plan, the result of two years of community involvement, on Dec. 8.

Although the comp plan may be the commission’s highest profile role, the board also serves as a “gatekeeper” on other county planning projects. “The Planning Commission can vote yes or no to recommend a project; send it back to the application process or review it and send it to the BOCC,” said County Commissioner Wally White.

Because of the slowed economy, White said very few projects are coming through the planning pipes these days, however, the role of the Planning Commission is still vitally important because of the power it wields to carry out the community’s wishes. Furthermore, the unpaid job is the most demanding as far as time and homework requirements. “That’s why it’s important that we have good people on this,” said White.

In the wake of public outcry over the composition of the Planning Commission last summer, which some accused of being too radical, White requested the BOCC revamp the vetting and hiring process. Candidates are now required to fill out a questionnaire and will be judged on certain criteria, such as length of time living here and past planning experience.

“We are trying to improve the commission and do away with some of the partisanship,” said White, who has been a vocal critic to some current commission members. “The hope is to get people who are not ideologically based and who understand planning principles. So far, they haven’t done a good job of representing the community.”

However, White said as is the case with most governmental entities, change will likely be slow in coming. “I want to see some big changes in how we go about this,” he said. “But it’s going to be a long process changing the make up, and whether we can, remains to be seen. The community deserves it, that’s for sure.”

An application and job description may be obtained at www.co.laplata.co.us or from the Information Desk at the La Plata County Courthouse, 1060 E. Second Ave. Applications are due by Jan. 13. For more information, call the county commissioners office at 382-6219.

Molas snowmobile ambassadors sought
San Juan Mountains Association is goodwill hunting – for snowmobilers, that is.

In conjunction with the San Juan National Forest, SJMA is seeking volunteer “snowmobile ambassadors” for its Winter Recreation Information program on Molas Pass.

Now in its fourth year, the program was devised as a way to help multiple users “share the snow” at the popular winter recreation spot. Easy access has made the 7,100-acre area, 42 miles north of Durango, popular among snowmobilers, Nordic skiers, showshoers, backcountry skiers and a commercial cat skiing operation. However, low snow combined with increased usage has led to challenges in peaceful co-existence.

“The Forest Service asked us to help provide ambassadors on Molas Pass because of conflicts between users,” said Kathe Hayes, of the SJMA. “We have skiers and snowshoers but we noticed we were lacking a snowmobile component.”

Hayes said the job of the ambassador is to offer advice to visitors on where to ski or snowshoe, educate on Leave No Trace practices and advise snowmobilers on where they can and can’t travel. Molas Pass is adjacent to the Weminuche Wilderness area, which is off limits to motorized vehicles and bikes. Furthermore, snowmobiles are also prohibited in a 200-acre nonmotorized area around Andrew’s Lake.

The so-called “donut hole” was created in 2001 as part of the San Juan National Forest’s Management Plan. It was created as a haven for skiers wishing to escape the din of motors, which had become increasingly difficult thanks to a combination of low snow and increased usage.

Hayes said volunteers are trained to use “friendly” public contact skills and “focus on fun in the snow.” But they also serve as quasi eyes and ears for the Forest Service, which currently has only two rangers covering the area. “The volunteers wear name tags and Forest Service jackets,” she said. “They want us to serve as ‘boots on the ground.’”

In addition to providing useful information to visitors, the volunteers also help maintain signage and track usage patterns, such as numbers and types of cars in the parking lot, which may be used for future forest planning. They also serve a policing role, such as reporting any snowmachines or tracks in the nonmotorized zones. Hayes said more often than not, such trespasses are unintentional, which is why on-snow education and signage are so important. “I think a lot of people just get out there, and they don’t realize where they are,” said Hayes.

Efforts to recruit snowmobilers in recent years have fallen short, but Hayes said she just received a call from one interested snowmobiler who is also a skier, and she is hopeful there will be a few more. As for nosnowmobile volunteers, she said the more the merrier. “I wouldn’t turn away anyone who was interested,” she said. “Of course the bonus for these volunteers is they get to enjoy the snow and are making a difference on their public lands.”
People interested in becoming a Molas Pass snow ambassador can call Hayes at 385-1310 or e-mail Kathe@sjma.org. Volunteer training will be in January.

– Missy Votel