“There’s no silver bullet to fix this,” said Jonathan Houck, Gunnison County Board of Commissioners chair, more than once at Tuesday’s regular Zoom meeting. He was referring to an all-terrain vehicle problem that’s been a thorn in the side of Marble residents for almost a decade.
Since 2013, the amount of ATVs on local roads — particularly County Road 3 — has increased, negatively impacting the quality of life in Marble.
John Armstrong, president of the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association, said that the vehicles create a health hazard. “[They generate] dust and fumes and noise, and certainly a safety issue for Marble residents and anybody else traveling that road.”
In 2015 and again in 2018, despite public outcry, Gunnison County commissioners signed resolutions allowing ATVs on County Road 3, east of Beaver Lake to the bottom of an area known as Daniel’s Hill. But, Armstrong said, that hasn’t helped. “It continues to be problematic.”
One problem is that ATV use doesn’t stop at the bottom of Daniel’s Hill — the top of the hill is where County Road 3 ends and access to the White River National Forest begins. Naturally, ATV users are riding from Beaver Lake to the top of the hill.
What the 2015 and 2018 county resolutions fail to clarify is that state law prohibits ATVs on the portion of the road that climbs Daniel’s Hill. According to Colorado Revised Statute 33-14.5-108, ATVs are not allowed on any “public roadway, highway or street in the state except in emergency situations or for agricultural purposes.”
The proposed resolution states that Gunnison County commissioners “understand that the public has historically used all-terrain vehicles, off-highway vehicles and utility terrain vehicles on that certain portion of County Road 3.” But, that so-called historic use for three-quarters of a mile, from the bottom to the top of Daniel’s Hill, has essentially been illegal.
Like many land-use issues in the Roaring Fork and Crystal River valleys, the ATV situation in Marble — or rather the solution to the ATV situation in Marble — is complicated. It requires federal, state, county and municipal cooperation.
Marble residents have taken their complaints to the Marble Town Council. In 2018, the Lead King Loop Steering Committee was formed to work with the U.S. Forest Service, or USFS, on management solutions. But, so far, according to Armstrong and other residents, nothing has changed.
Gunnison County Commissioner Liz Smith said Tuesday that she considers the ATV issue to be an urgent problem that has caused her to lose sleep. “The crush of volume of people with the free-for-all OHVs on the Lead King Loop — I don’t know that there’s enough enforcement in the world that can really manage that without a different policy.”
She added that community collaboration is key to finding a solution. “When you have all these jurisdictional entities overlapping in this very small place, you need partners to get a long-term solution.”
Enforcement was thrown around during the discussion like a football from the county to the Forest Service. Can the Gunnison County Sheriff spare a deputy during high-volume days? What about a USFS law enforcement officer?
Kevin Warner, district ranger for the Aspen/Sopris Ranger District, said that no USFS provision separates ATVs from jeeps or other street-legal vehicles on Forest Service roads. He added that a long-term solution would require revising the White River National Forest Travel Management Plan.
“It would involve a huge public process,” he explained, including the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, process and a new engineering analysis. “The engineering analysis that was done on the road when our travel management plan was first done showed that this route was safe and intended for all those sizes of vehicles.”
The most recent travel management plan for the White River National Forest was completed in 2011 after seven years of work.
Warner also said the USFS manages public lands for multiple use and not just for a small public minority that doesn’t like ATVs. “We manage it for everyone,” he said.
He added that he wants to collaborate with the public, the town and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, but his authority is limited.
After more than an hour of discussion, no signs of any kind of solution were forthcoming. Hence Houck’s silver bullet remark.
But Marble resident Greg Staple believes there are some silver buckshot solutions.
He told The Sopris Sun in an email that he recently wrote Warner a letter asking what steps the USFS planned to take to deter illegal ATV use up Daniel’s Hill.
“I suggested that a temporary emergency [ATV] travel ban on the western end of the Lead King Loop was needed to avoid dangerous trailering of [ATVs] up the hill and illegal parking at the top,” he said, adding that Warner was unresponsive.
Locals are worried about Memorial Day, typically a high-volume ATV weekend for Marble. The holiday is three weeks away, and there is no solution in sight. More discussion on the Gunnison County commissioners proposed resolution is set for Tuesday, May 18.