Teepee Park Ranch / Shark Park — Campaign for Public Access

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | May 6, 2017      

Aaron Mattix

You know your spot is off the radar when the official signage is improvised.

You know your spot is off the radar when the official signage is improvised.

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.

Ryan Fideldy gets first tracks down the meadow basin

Ryan Fideldy gets first tracks down the meadow basin

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.

Shark Park offers unique vistas of the high desert of the Colorado River Valley.

Shark Park offers unique vistas of the high desert of the Colorado River Valley.

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.”

For more information, project description & link to maps here.


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14 Responses to “Teepee Park Ranch / Shark Park — Campaign for Public Access”

  1. Gary Hollenbaugh May 6th, 2017 11:36 am

    Aaron: To clarify a couple points regarding backcountry skiing in Beaver Cr drainage S of Rifle, the “official signage” is not official, having been modified and placed by a skier to lightheartedly alert the drivers, all of whom are careful, competent, and friendly, of our presence. More importantly Shark Park and the approaches to the good, safe skiing are all owned by the oil company which has so far ignored the encroachment. The attempt to obviate an hour’s skinning might result in loss of skiing altogether.

  2. Aaron Mattix May 6th, 2017 2:07 pm

    Gary, thanks for the unofficial signage!

    Part of me agrees to the wisdom of just keeping silent, and dealing with the extra hour of approach time. But considering that about a decade ago the Forest Service already ceded public access of the upper portions of FS 824 to private interests, it makes me nervous to see them start locking the gate even further down the road.

    I don’t want to pick a fight with the 800 lb gorilla of energy development; I’m just trying to ask them nicely to scootch over a bit and give a bit of room to the small guy.

  3. Lou Dawson 2 May 6th, 2017 3:33 pm

    I know nearly nothing about this specific issue, but I feel strongly that it’s time for human powered recreators to speak up and be counted. And being proactive rather than reactive is key. Example on the home front, when the Yule Quarry reopened, there was a valid question about who owned the Quarry Road. Court decided it was the County, but nonetheless, County can still close the road on a whim (as they can any road, temporarily). Our original motivation in doing the hard work of acquiring property on Quarry Road was to ensure access on the road for all backcountry skiers, idea being that if the County or Quarry got weird, we could start a skier’s “club” or something that utilized the clout of being a property owner, for access on the “closed” road. We are still willing to do something like that if it ever comes to it. Proactive and all that.

    Moreover, the Quarry actually stepped up to the plate last summer and made huge improvements to the public trailheads on Quarry Road. Why? Because they saw the need but also were willing to listen to users who were willing to talk and even push a little bit. It is amazing and wonderful what happened.


  4. Gary Hollenbaugh May 6th, 2017 4:34 pm

    When the FS ceded the upper road to a fellow named Carpenter, they built a trail around the E side of Teepee Park to allow public access to the public land above in exchange for Carpenter using helicopter extraction of his timber instead of improving the road for truck extraction. (He failed to comply, ravaging the land for his timber by traditional methods.) In our case, there is no existing public access to Shark Park and the lovely glades below, which as I stated are private anyhoo; the locked gate, which opens 20 May, simply forces one to walk a mile or so to access land to which there is no public right!
    Could not agree more with your comment, Lou, all the way to your first comma. SKI HEIL!

  5. Lou Dawson 2 May 6th, 2017 7:26 pm

    Shout out to Colorado Stone Quarries. Voluntary trailhead improvements. If you can’t grow it you have to mine it… Lou

  6. Aaron Mattix May 6th, 2017 8:37 pm

    Gary, thanks for sharing the extra details on history of the upper road access.

    From what I’ve been able to ascertain from the Garfield County GIS site, the upper meadow of Shark Park is part of CPX Holdings, but the most of the lower aspen stands are Forest Service land. So, technically speaking, the portion of FS 824 that is under consideration for re-alignment is accessing Forest Service land. It is a critical toehold in this gateway of access, and we ought to be diligent in preserving it. If this comment period were to pass by without any comments in favor of continued recreational access, we would be one step closer to losing more access to the most convenient access to the high country from Rifle.

  7. Gary Hollenbaugh May 6th, 2017 10:16 pm

    Aaron, do you know if theFS plans to have a winter closure gate on the proposed bypass? They claim the existing winter closure is for safety concerns on the present sub-standard road; since the bypass appears to be the industry standard, CPX should have no grounds to request closure, which would allow us winter access to the upper trailhead by vehicle.

  8. Aaron Mattix May 7th, 2017 7:49 am

    Gary, I’m not really sure what the FS plans regarding winter gate closure on the proposed new road, and the statement is not clear as to the standing of public access after the construction of the bypass. I do understand the safety concerns of having heavy truck traffic, and recreational traffic. But if the bypass is to built to a wider standard, then it is difficult to see the reasoning in keeping the current winter closure. As long as a trailhead is going to be maintained, might as well have it be the upper Beaver Creek trailhead. Especially considering that the Beaver Creek trailhead was created to compensate for the access that was lost when the FS ceded the upper portion of the road. Locking out the public a mile from the trailhead is not consistent with ensuring public access to public lands.

  9. Gary Hollenbaugh May 7th, 2017 9:08 am

    Bottom line, at least for me, the gate does not limit public access to public land: you can skin on the road or through the forest to reach any objective. Not driving to the upper TH does not, by my lights, constitute a loss of public access to recreational opportunities.

  10. Lou Dawson 2 May 7th, 2017 3:49 pm

    Thanks for chiming in Gary, appreciated! Lou

  11. Steve May 8th, 2017 11:12 am

    Can you drive around the gate on a snowmobile? Also-that road looks like some great skate skiing terrain.

  12. Gary Hollenbaugh May 9th, 2017 7:35 am

    Hi Steve, in point of fact, snowmachine exclusion is the primary reason CPX requested the gate, which ironically is a boon to those of us using shank’s mare to access our fun. However, they manicure the road freqently down to gravel, complicating the striding/skating, but not the snowshoeing and skinning along the verge.

  13. Ashton Taufer January 11th, 2018 11:16 am

    Is this area open right now ? I didn’t know there was backcountry skiing near Rifle. Is there a good guidebook or website with directions and more of a description of this area? Are you able to ski there now with these early season conditions?

  14. Lou Dawson 2 January 11th, 2018 11:45 am

    I heard you can ski it a bit… no guidebook, yet (smile). It’s apparently pretty easy to find, though the immense crowd of locals that use the place might be bummed to increase their number by 30% (smile). Lou

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