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Colorado's public lands are faced with new challenges but water and land management depend on working together. Read about the relationship between water and land in Colorado and how Coloradans are converging to restore Colorado's public lands in the Spring 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine.

Browse articles and find a flipbook of the magazine here.

Connecting the Drops

connectingdropslogo4.1Bringing you the reporting you crave over the radio airways with extras and archives on our website. Visit the audio archives or listen to the latest story on the connection between Colorado's forests, watersheds, and forest fires:

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Water Education Colorado

Getting on Track with Off-Highway Use

By Joshua Zaffos

 During an era when just about every conceivable outdoor activity is on the rise, the growth in off-highway vehicle use is staggering. Between 1995 and 2008, Colorado’s OHV registration program charted a 223 percent increase in registered vehicles-now at about 133,000 OHVs each year-which observers chalk up to the increased affordability and capability of machines and riders’ growing recognition of the state’s vast suitable terrain.

The astronomical increase has had some overwhelming impacts. The vehicles’ inherent versatility and ability to go anywhere, fast, combined with a lack of clearly marked trails has translated into massive habitat fragmentation over entire landscapes. Off-trail riding and reckless behavior can also harm streambeds and water quality, spread invasive weeds and disturb archaeological sites. It only takes a few negligent jeeps, motorbikes or ATVs to scar landscapes and make the whole motorized community look like scofflaws.

Environmentalists and “quiet-use” recreation groups, who advocate for hiking and backpacking, backcountry hunting and fishing, cross-country skiing, and other “human-powered” activities, also contend that the noisy engines ruin the tranquility of open lands and contribute to air pollution.

On-the-ground conflicts and debates over the best use of approximately $3 million in annual registration funds-for trail construction versus resource protection and monitoring-between OHV riders and quiet-use groups have escalated, but after years of reactive management, public-lands officials, with support from all corners of the recreation spectrum, are resolving some of those issues.

The federal land-management agencies have undertaken travel management plans of an unprecedented scope. The U.S. Forest Service announced its Travel Management Rule in 2005, requiring all national forests and grasslands to identify and designate trails and areas open to motorized use and to restrict cross-country and off-trail travel. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management aims to have similar, comprehensive travel planning in place by 2015.

Corey Corbett, manager of operations for the nonprofit Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, understands the need to manage for different uses, but he laments the loss of some historic and popular OHV routes and worries new wilderness designations could further reduce access. “There’s a huge growing demand for off-highway use in Colorado and a declining supply” of motorized trails, Corbett says.

In order to protect its reputation and rein in careless or uninformed riders, the motorized community is promoting responsibility within its ranks, and the coalition supported a new state rule to control vehicle noise, which went into effect this past July. The Responsible Recreation Foundation’s flagship program, Stay the Trail Colorado, is an offshoot of the coalition’s educational branch. Stay the Trail focuses on education, bringing an informational trailer around to OHV hot spots, and has developed an extensive state map detailing legal motorized travel access. Program staff meet with OHV clubs around the state to distribute maps and educate riders on trail etiquette and new rules.

Jack Placchi, the BLM’s trails and travel management coordinator for Colorado, says the combination of consistent state funding with on-the-ground support from motorized and non-motorized recreation stakeholders is helping to maintain, sign and monitor trails and to reduce conflicts.

Enforcement to keep people on designated routes, however, is still lacking, says Roz McClellan of the Rocky Mountain Recreation Initiative, who spent the past year campaigning for part of the $3 million in registration funds to be dedicated specifically to enforcement. In mid-July, the Colorado State Parks board moved to insert enforcement language into guidelines that help determine where the OHV fund money, distributed through grants, ultimately goes, though McClellan called the language weak and says the OHV coalition has since sued the board to reverse the change.

Without enforcement, McClellan believes there will always be maverick riders who flout the designated trail system the BLM and USFS are trying to establish.

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