One of the privileged joys of mountain living is having a local stash of backcountry terrain where fresh turns are often guaranteed. But what if you were to one day find access blocked by a locked gate?
This is the dilemma of Shark Park, an open meadow, and tree runs just south of Rifle, Colorado, on the very northeastern edge of the Grand Mesa. Low angles, and relatively open timber make it a safe, and inviting location for backcountry skiing. For over a decade, it has been the go-to spot for locals to get in turns without heading to ski resorts (the nearest is two hours away).
By sending a online comment to the US Forest service, public access to Shark Park could be greatly improved. Comment period ends on May 8, 2017, so take action now. Details and a sample comment follow.
Though the road to Shark Park is maintained for the heavy truck traffic accessing the gas wells, the public is locked out of using this road during the winter. This adds nearly an hour of hiking to the approach, which makes the access time to skiing equivalent to driving to the next accessible area of backcountry ski terrain.
Considering the volume of heavy truck traffic that justifies the maintenance of the road, contrasted with the relatively low numbers of recreational users, opening access to the Beaver Creek trailhead would not add a significant degree of impact, while greatly improving recreation opportunities for the public.
CPX Piceance Holdings operates gas wells on private inholdings in Forest Service land, and is proposing a reroute of lower FS 824. This reroute will eliminate the switchbacks, and one-lane sections of the road; while also re-positioning the pipeline further away from the Beaver Creek drainage.
Following the construction of this bypass, the lower section of FS 824 (from the upper switchback to Garfield County Road 317) is to be decommissioned, and reclaimed by CPX. According to the statement issued by the Forest Service, “Commercial road use, and public access to the Beaver Creek trailhead would relocate to the proposed Beaver Creek bypass. Improvements to the Beaver Creek trailhead would be made coinciding with the construction of the bypass.”
One concern is having the gate locked in the winter. The statement by the Forest Service doesn’t make it clear whether or not the proposed re-alignment would result in the gate being open in the winter.
This review of access to the Beaver Creek region south of Rifle is a prime opportunity to improve the quality of recreation available in the area by enhancing public access to local high country options.
Improving the existing upper Beaver Creek trailhead to accommodate at least 6 vehicles, and allowing for public access to this trailhead during the winter would be a significant improvement of winter recreation opportunities. Instead of completely reclaiming the lower section of FS 824, it should be converted to singletrack for non-motorized access (xc skiing, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding).
To compliment this singletrack, a trailhead should be added at the CR 317 / FS 824 boundary (where the gate is currently closed during the winter). This additional trailhead would reduce user pressure by serving as the access point for xc skiing/snowshoeing, and the upper lot for backcountry skiing.
The comment period ends on May 8th, and is the best opportunity to advocate for improved recreational access here in the White River National Forest.
Following is a suggested comment, feel free to copy and submit here. Deadline for submitting comments is May 8, 2017.
“In keeping with the Forest Service’s mission to provide public access for recreation, and harmonize with LiveWell Garfield County’s goal of being the healthiest county in Colorado, the proposed re-alignment of FS 824 should take into consideration the needs of public user recreationalists by improving the existing Beaver Creek trail head, and providing access to the public during the winter.
The current restrictions prioritizing private access over public access add an hour of approach time v. the access available from the Beaver Creek trail head. Parking at the Beaver Creek trailhead allows for immediate access to safe backcountry terrain, providing a local option rather than driving up valley to more crowded access points.
Rather than completely de-commissioning lower FS 824, the alignment should be re-purposed as as a singletrack for human-powered recreation such as xc skiing, hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding. A trailhead should be established at the CR 317 / FS 824 boundary to access this trail, and reduce pressure on the upper parking lot.
The proposed re-alignment of FS 824 is an excellent opportunity to improve recreational access to the White River National Forest for the Rifle area, while maximizing existing alignments.”