In early May, a portion of the Calico Trail, which is a part of the Rico-West Dolores Travel Management Plan, was officially closed to all users by the Forest Service. According to the order, the purpose of the closing was to “prevent rutting of the trail, and the establishment of new routes around damaged areas,” which can mean higher maintenance costs and harm to surrounding wetlands. This photo was taken on the trail just one day before the closure./Photo courtesy Steve Johnson

Making tracks

Comment period extended for Rico-West Dolores travel plan


by Tracy Chamberlin

With less than two weeks to comment, the clock is ticking on a trail-use controversy in the San Juans. 

At the heart of the debate is the motorized use of trails in the Rico-West Dolores area of the San Juan National Forest. Some people want a majority of trails to be designated for quiet use, like hiking, hunting and mountain biking. Others want to keep many of those same trails open for motorized users, like motorcycle riders. 

To comment on the plan

Go online:

You can also search for “Travel Management Plan, Rico-West Dolores” and choose the San Juan National Forest link to the project at the top of the page. 

Send an email: NEPA lead on the project, Debbie Kill
at or Dolores District Ranger, Derek Padilla at

Use snail mail: Dolores Public Lands Office, 29211 Hwy. 184, Dolores, CO 81323.

Got any questions?

Call Debbie Kill at 970-882-6822

With so many individuals, organizations, businesses and other stakeholders looking to comment, officials from the San Juan National Forest extended the public comment period to July 15. 

“No matter whose side you’re on,” said Bob Marion, habitat watchman for Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “You would think, as citizens, we would want this evaluated.”

It turns out, this is the first time the Rico-West Dolores area is going through the kind of analysis and scrutiny
required by the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. 

Following a court case over the lack of such analysis, the Forest Service published a draft environmental impact statement for the Rico-West Dolores Roads and Trails Travel Management Project in May.

So far, there is one thing both sides agree on – nobody likes Plan B. 

Alternative B, which is also the proposed action in the draft plan, isn’t supported by either side in the debate. 

In the draft plan, the Forest Service said this choice “would make minor changes to the road system, remove motorcycles from some trails to address resource impacts, livestock distribution concerns and balance
requests for nonmotorized areas.”

It would also have the tightest seasonal closure, opening specific trails for motorized use from July 1-Sept. 9. The other days of the year, no motorized access would be allowed.

Officials offer a variety of reasons for the proposed closure including the protection of elk, watersheds and the environment. 

The San Juan Trail Riders, a local motorized group that commented on the plan, described this alternative as “totally unacceptable” and falling short of the purpose and need of the project. Their goal is “to improve opportunities for off-highway vehicles and assure the best care of the land,” according to their website.

The San Juan Trail Riders, also a member of Coalition, a national organization promoting the responsible use of public lands for outdoor recreation, stated in their comment to Forest Service officials that they applaud the team who worked on the Rico-West Dolores project. “However, many of the conclusions … regarding ‘quality vs. quantity’ of trails, how trail rides might be taken by riders to optimize their pleasure, etc., are a complete disconnect from what single-track motorized users actually prefer in their riding opportunities.”

They comment on all five of the alternative plans the Forest Service examined in the draft, choosing to support a modified version of Alternative C with recommended changes to improve access and connectivity of the trail system. 

As for Marion and other quiet-use advocates, they don’t support Plan B either.
Instead, they would choose a modified version of Alternative E. Their suggested changes include some additional protected trails and a shorter seasonal closure. 

The San Juan Trail Riders called Alternative E “devastating to the future of single-track motorized recreation and the entire current single-track motorized system.”

Marion thinks plenty of places have already been set aside for single-track motorized users – not just in the Rico-West Dolores travel management plan, but also in the Mancos-Cortez and Boggy Glade regions of the San Juan National Forest. 

Some of the top concerns for groups like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is the possibility for trail damage and the ability of quiet users to enjoy the trails without being disrupted by motorized vehicles. A portion of the Calico Trail, above, was closed recently because of damage./Photo courtesy Steve Johnson

He feels quiet users are getting closed out. “Everyone should get a place,” he explained.

Joining the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, groups like the Durango-based San Juan Citizens Alliance and Dunton Hot Springs in Dolores are looking to promote quiet use activities. 

“If they’re concerned about losing access to their favorite trails,” said Steve Johnson, general counsel for Dunton Hot Springs, “they should speak out before July 15.”

The top concerns for these groups is the ability of quiet users to enjoy the trails without the disruption of motorized users, the potential for disruption to local wildlife, and the possibility of trail damage.

Following several rainy months last summer, a portion of the Calico Trail in the Rico-West Dolores area was tagged for voluntary closure because of trail abuse. Horse, mountain bike and motorcycle travel was “not recommended” and officials asked users to avoid using the trail until it dried out. Unfortunately, the posting wasn’t followed and conditions deteriorated. 

This summer, the trail has been officially closed to all users by Forest Service officials. According the official order, the purpose for closing it is “to prevent rutting of the trail, and the establishment of new routes around damaged areas,” which can mean higher maintenance costs and harm to wetlands.

Johnson said the trail is likely to remain closed next summer and could take more than $275,000 to repair. This closure is a concern to Dunton, Johnson said, because his customers would not be able to access the area. 

“It should have closed to motorized use last summer,” he added.