Road Access in Marble, Colorado — Future Looks Bright

Post by blogger | July 25, 2012      

(Editor’s note: See for more information about backcountry access and skiing near Marble, Colorado.)

Excellent news for western Colorado backcountry recreationalists: One of our few producing mines in Colorado appears to be planning on staying open, and thus will continue to maintain and snowplow their road access to Yule Quarry in the mountains west of Aspen — a favorite area for backcountry skiers (and the location of WildSnow field headquarters).

Aspen Times reports that the Italian company operating Yule Quarry, near Marble, Colorado is expending significant resources to open a new portal to the underground marble mine, and increasing year-around production that already keeps the quarry road open all winter.

Yule Quarry is more than 100 years old, but had been out of operation for decades before reopening in 1990. Since then, the access road has been plowed nearly every winter.

The mountains of Colorado provide vast areas where you can backcountry ski. But very few of those areas have road access for day-trip trailheads. Thus, news about any of our motorized access routes is important. Frequently, such news is depressing. Roads on public land are closed permanently, blocked by private land, or gated during springtime when they’re actually dry enough to drive — and access a safer springtime consolidated snowpack.

As a recreation advocate, I firmly believe that we have vast resources for alpine recreation, and that “crowding” is usually a false situation created by limited access that concentrates use instead of dispersing. In my view, we could use a few more roads that high in elevation, perhaps plowed now and then in the winter or at least available for snowmobile access.

Here in the western United States, one of two things (or a combination) probably created your favorite high mountain access road: mineral extraction (oil, mining, etc.) and logging. Presently, nearly any new mineral or logging road that’s created is slated at some point to be removed and reclaimed. One has to wonder, could the USFS, BLM and other land management entities work with extractive industry to make a few more roads we could all use for fun, and not erase?

Blasphemy? What do you guys think?

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29 Responses to “Road Access in Marble, Colorado — Future Looks Bright”

  1. Egg July 25th, 2012 11:09 am

    I completely disagree with you Lou. It is roadless ecosystems, not recreational access points, that are under real threat and have actually disappeared. There are already extremely few places in the lower 48 where you can be more than 2 miles from a road. In fact, there is probably no place in Colorado where you could walk in a straight line for 8 miles without crossing a road.

    Recreational access serves an elite population of people in a user community who use public land for personal leisure. Ecosystem services, on the other hand, are a real public benefit, and maintaining those services is a public good, unlike hiking, skiing, snowmobiling, etc., which are private pursuits which benefit only an individual.

    Roadless ecosystems are an endangered landscape. Road building is the primary factor that initiates degradation of any ecosystem. Do we really need to do another analysis of the concurrence of road proliferation and biodiversity degradation?

    Why should we manage our few remaining (relatively) undisturbed ecosystems on public land in such a way that caters to a few private individuals at the expense of the public? Why would we build new roads when we can’t afford to maintain those that are already built? The USFS is broke, increasing taxes is taboo, luckily there is no money to build and maintain roads which would serve a community of about 80 skiers and some private extraction corporation that sells your own stuff back to you.

    You’re also implicitly suggesting that we invent some extraction projects merely in order to have more places to that we can drive to for playtime. Maybe they can clear-cut some new ski runs. Yeah, I’d call that blasphemy.

  2. Andrew July 25th, 2012 12:27 pm

    8 miles? Come on, you can walk over 50 miles from Silverton to wolf creek without crossing a road. There are several other examples…

  3. Lou Dawson July 25th, 2012 2:47 pm

    As far as I know Egg, our backcountry road miles in Colorado have diminished over past years, rather than increasing as you seem to imply. On the whole, you sound like you’re fear mongering, as if a few more miles of secondary road are going to cause an ecological apocalypse. Not so.

    If you want to find a place with an amazingly dense network of roads, go to Western Europe. I’d not suggest Colorado as an example.

    As for “selling your own stuff back to you,” I’d suggest a review of basic economics.

    And the USFS is far from broke. They have less money than they used to, and choose to allocate it in various ways, subsequently not having it for other things they used to spend it on. That’s frequently a good thing. For example, do they really need to build bridges and place sign posts in legal Wilderness — is that even legal?

    None of us want to destroy the land we love to enjoy. Backcountry recreation and conservation can easily co-exist, including having some roads.


  4. Caleb Wray July 25th, 2012 5:03 pm

    “In fact, there is probably no place in Colorado where you could walk in a straight line for 8 miles without crossing a road.”


    I have studied the topos and I can walk, skin, or ski on public land from my front door in Evergreen (near Denver) all the way to Silverton and only cross 3 roads. So the 8 miles is probably not accurate. As far as roads go, they are gonna be there, and they benefit us all whether we like it or not. The majority of outdoor recreation revenue is generated from people that don’t feel able or comfortable going 8 miles from a road (a good thing for the ecosystems). However we all benefit from the R&D creations funded by said revenue.

    For most average folks (Dawson’s excluded) quick access to a backcountry experience is enriching and priceless. Sure the elitist side of me wants them to close the Marble road since I have snowmobiles and access to Wildsnow Field HQ, but that is a little too selfish for me to stomach. We all benefit from more people getting out there and enjoying something we all love. There are still numerous place in North America to get the total wilderness feel. Alaska, Northwest Territories, Labrador, and the Yukon all come to mind. Heck, the River of no Return area in Idaho or the Bob Marshall in Montana should satiate any such desires.

    I agree that we have had an impact on Colorado’s ecosystems with recreational activities, but as our population grows, it is inevitable. That said, I still see plenty of flora and fauna every time I go out. Proper management is the only solution, and yes the USFS hasn’t been great at it, but like all management strategies, there is a learning curve and it has been steep for them over the last 30 years. Education seems like a better avenue than prohibition. People respect what they understand.

  5. tka July 25th, 2012 11:58 pm

    +1 for egg

    Educate yourselves by taking a look at a map of the US showing its roads. Anywhere where there is a high density of roads means either: lots of people or extreme localized environmental resource extraction (mines/logging). The mere presence of people and all the things we bring/create/change end up reducing biological diversity and change the natural ecosystems to a degraded state. Most biologists/ecologists would agree with this. The environment suffers wherever people are/go/recreate. Take the Chernobyl accident. Biologists predicted that area would be biologically sterile for hundreds of years after it melted. Just 20 years later they found the area thriving with life, resembling the natural ecosystem, in the areas most greatly affected. The only difference was that there were no humans present. Remove the humans, life returns. More roads X more humans = less diversity/poor habitat = > less humans. The last great bastions of wilderness are there because there were no roads to let humans in. Wolves survived in the BWCA because there were no roads. They are prime examples of pristine wilderness where very few of its inhabitants are endangered. I live in AK. Most up here see vast untrammeled areas to exploit/develop. This was the same mindset the pioneers/trappers/miners/homesteaders had as they made their way west. The greatest road density is in the east and gradually gets less so as one heads west. The wildest/healthiest places in the lower 48 are in the west. Size must be viewed from a non-human perspective. Before white man, the entire continent was one wilderness. Look at we’ve done since. Those blank spots are threatened, not our ability to recreate. The repercussions of no blank spots are what’s threatening us. There are direct correlations between unhealthy communities (human and natural) and road density.

    With all this said, the problem isn’t roads. Its us. Our mindset and our numbers. We can’t or haven’t figured out how to coexist (maintain sustainability) with the earth, at our current numbers, while living at our current means. We better learn change our minds.

    Yes Lou. It’s blasphemy.

    “I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in. Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?”
    ~Aldo Leopold

  6. Wookie1974 July 26th, 2012 1:56 am

    I’m with Egg on this. Lou: I live in Western Europe – and yes, all that access is pretty special in its own way, but the Alps ARE NOT the Rockies and have nothing left of the wilderness which you all still enjoy, and which the whole world benefits from. (More than just feell-good stuff: Biodiversity, Carbon-reduction, Functional Ecosystems, etc.) The Alps have been “humanized” for so long that we no longer even KNOW what the original landscape was like in pre-human time.
    Examples: All that high-alpine: Most of it exists due to grazing AND government funded MOWING at high altitude. Steinbock and Berggams (mountain goats of various flavors) – all extinct in the eastern Alps at the turn of the last century and re-introduced – mostly to places where they had not existed before. Trees? A recent phenomenon – photographs from the 1890s show the hills almost bare due to logging for heating. And on and on.
    Roads are the first step to large-scale changes to the natural environment. I for one am glad that there are still places that are hard to get to. As for recreation: crowding is a neccesary evil, with the benefit of the possibility of escape.

    I’d love to be able to go SOMEWHERE in the Alps and see a wilderness, and not meet at least 10 people. It is nearly impossible to do. Count your blessings, Lou.

  7. George July 26th, 2012 6:59 am

    Quarry road is great access into the high country. Last week we hiked Yule Creek trail and came across a 1901 Fairbanks & Morse engine that is a historical clue to our mining heritage. If the quarry road was not open to the public or maintained I seriously doubt my 7 year old son would have access to this trail. Access to public lands should be balanced and the few mining roads remaining are good.

  8. Lou Dawson July 26th, 2012 7:01 am

    Wookie, we do have some pretty cool Wilderness in North America, but you might want to check your “grass is greener” feelings and the door and know that most of the so-called Wilderness we have in Coloado is nice, but far from pristine. Much of it was former mining districts, or had roads at one time, had plenty of now extirpated animals, and much of the forest is second growth after miners and others logged it out. Furthermore, years of fire suppression have resulted in an artificially dense forest. On top of that, much of our legal wilderness in Colorado contains networks of deeply worn horse trails, man made signs and bridges, private land inholdings with structures, abandoned structures, and water diversion systems. Thinking of it as some kind of Edenic fantasy is frequently just that.

    I’m not dissing what we have, just being realistic. We do have an amazing amenity in our vast areas of low population — we drive through those areas frequently, Montana, most of Western Colorado, most of Nevada, and so on. But much of those areas have some degree of road access, and are not designated legal Wilderness. Even so, they’re incredibly rich areas both from a recreation standpoint, as well as biologically. Point being, this thing about roads being the big evil is a paranoid fantasy of certain biased conservation biologists. Sure, too many roads is a drag, but a few backcountry roads, as I’m suggesting, are not a problem. And yes, western Europe is a good example in many ways.

  9. Lou Dawson July 26th, 2012 7:05 am

    TKA, thanks for being honest about your feelings. It might be stating the obvious to say the problem is people, not roads, but really, that’s the basis of my point. Despite our obvious differences about how much influence roads have (I don’t feel they’re necessarily the Great Satan nor wanting more is blasphemy), I’d agree that too many people doing the wrong stuff is the best way to wreck the backcountry. A good example is the trail erosion on the Colorado 14,000-foot peaks. That’s being repaired and now prevented, but for a while it was appalling. And it was not the fault of roads. In fact, it is arguable that if you built a secondary road to the top of a 14er (and didn’t allow development like that on Pikes Peak) the peak would remain about the same as if it didn’t have a road. We have an example of that, Mount Antero has a 4×4 trail that pretty much reaches the top. You hike that peak, it’s not any different in terms of ecology than other peaks without roads. I wouldn’t want roads up all our peaks, but I’ve been out there with my feet on the ground for more than 50 years now, and I’m just not seeing roads as the big deal you guys make them out to be, in fact, as stated, I wouldn’t mind a few more. But yeah, not toooo many (grin). Lou

  10. Andrew July 26th, 2012 10:06 am

    I think the argument for more roads is akin to the argument for more guns. As we all know, guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Roads and cars don’t ruin the backcountry, people ruin it. The easier the access is, the more people will use it, and with cars, they can easily carry in far more high impact stuff, ie. BBQ’s, guns, boomboxes, axes, shovels, winches, compressors, chainsaws, etc.. Cars and trailers also break down and/or get stuck and are then abandoned.

    From what I’ve seen of CO and other areas, there are TONS of old roads. I don’t see that letting a few of them grow back over is that big a deal, and I definitely don’t think that the FS should be wasting its money on maintaining them, especially in the winter. If the area isn’t Wilderness, you can still bring a bike on old roads, or in the worst case, you could, shudder, walk, just like people have done for decades, if not centuries.

  11. Lou Dawson July 26th, 2012 10:12 am

    Andrew, yeah, at the least the USFS should quit spending so much money on the roads. Let them get rough, I say, just spend the minimum to prevent erosion, repair culverts, stuff like that. It’s annoying when you see heavy equipment up there grading a backcountry road, being paid for with your tax dollars.

  12. Scott Nelson July 26th, 2012 12:06 pm

    Regarding “BBQ’s, guns, boomboxes, axes, shovels, winches, compressors, chainsaws, etc..”, wait a minute, have you been snooping around Wildsnow’s field HQ? Just kidding , Lou…

    I’m pretty grateful for the marble quarry taking care of the road, especially in the winter. It’s pretty interesting to see how recreationalists and an operating marble quarry can all get along up there, or at least it seems that way. Granted, its a public access road, but they don’t have to maintain it, yet for obvious reasons choose to do so, which benefits the rest of us skiers, hikers, etc.

  13. Lou Dawson July 26th, 2012 12:20 pm

    Scott, you’re exactly right about it being an interesting and positive situation. Lots of ways that road could be closed to the public if the powers that be wanted to do it. As I’ve shared with many people, one of the reasons we bought property on the road was to use as leverage for public access if it ever came to that, by doing some sort of backcountry skiing association or club, that used the property for access leverage. Funny thing about our property is that part of the ownership history includes it being bought at least in part to allow access for Jeeping when the road was gated at one time, one of the former owners told me about that. The Yule Quarry road ownership was an issue once, it went to court, and they decided it was a County Road. Probably best it is. But it could still be closed for various reasons, especially if someone has an accident up there and the nanny state radar zooms in on it. All it takes is a piece of paper and the signature of the County Commissioners. Everyone should notice there is still a GATE at the start of the road. Scary. Drive carefully and never ever complain about the condition of the road.

  14. Lou Dawson July 26th, 2012 12:28 pm

    And yes, that description does sound like WildSnow HQ, though I have carried a gun on foot occasionally (grin).

  15. Jack July 27th, 2012 8:50 am

    All – I”m glad this road is staying open in the winter. I’d like to put in a good word for the Feds and habitat management. A lot of my boyhood was spent on Plum Island, a Massachusetts barrier island with salt-water estuaries, native American summer campsites, on major bird migratory routes and breeding site. >10 miles of raw ocean beach. I used to have a bit of a grudge with the National Wildlife Reserve people as the Fed’s took my family (grandmother’s ) cottage by eminent domain and regulated our use, eventually bulldozing the cottage after her death.
    Now, 30 years later, the Feds are obviously doing a wonderful job of managing this island, keeping birds safe, estuaries pristine, beach accessible, but clean and at manageable levels of impact. I think this may sound quite remote from CO backcountry, but the moral is: The Fed agencies have great drive and institutional memory and can do great good for wild areas, given the right mandate.

  16. Lou Dawson July 27th, 2012 9:25 am

    Jack, I’d agree. If we’re to have any sort of civilization we have to have government, and we do need to render unto “Caesar” what we’re supposed to. But I’m one of those guys who doesn’t totally trust Caesar and believes in a greater power, so along with trying to be a good citizen, I feel it’s also my job to find fault with our rulers so they have some incentive to stay true to our needs as humans, while balancing that with conservation measures that are not immediately specific to human needs but are simply good stewardship of our nest.

    In other words, yeah, Ceaser can do ok but we need to watch him like hawks on field mice.

    As for the power of eminent domain, many people don’t understand that it exists and tends to reflect current mores. Thus, if our country becomes less enamored to private property, we already have a mechanism to start eliminating it. That’s a concern to some folks, and a joy to others, depending on your world view and politics. And yes, eminent domain can be used for good. In fact, I sometimes wish it was used more often by wimpy politicians here in the west when private property owners shut off access to historic trails that are obviously ancient human land routes. That is, unless the route is on my own property (grin).


  17. Patrick July 27th, 2012 1:05 pm


    Of course, there are many important reasons people want roads: recreation use is just one reason. All of the other reasons are also human-centered; if it were not for human needs and wants, roads would not be built.

    Beyond human-centered perspectives, it is important to consider the bigger picture. After all, wildlife and ecosystems cannot blog their sides of the story on WildSnow.

    I’m a retired Professional Forester; I feel a responsibility to you Lou (and WildSnow bloggers) — I need to give you access to some road-related information.

    There are many ENVIRONMENTAL downsides to road construction, use, and maintenance (or lack there-of). I could list 23 negative impacts to soils, water, aquatic wildlife and habitat, another 12 impacts to terrestrial wildlife and habitat, as well as a few other miscellaneous impacts.

    If you, or others, have an interest in understanding the impacts, take a look at the summary paper. Environmental Impacts of Roads or

    Lou, I hope you have the interest to read it. Your editorial views on WildSnow reach a lot of people. Therefore, it is important for you to be informed as you pull together you blog comments.

    None of us can know all things about all topics.

    With respect Lou, from your posts, it is clear to me that you have a very limited understanding about the environmental impacts of roads, nor are you clear about what US public agencies are planning or doing about the impacts.

    PS — Here are some facts from a 2012 paper by Ralph Archibald (and others), here in British Columbia. Along the back-roads of BC, there are 134 to 200 thousand stream crossings that present potential barriers to fish passage. [Sure would be good to have some good road inventories to narrow down those estimates, but that would take money.] At the current rate and funding of remediation (about 25 projects per year), it will take 3,080 years to restore all these sites. Surely fish should count for something in the minds, tummies, and hearts of back-country recreationists.

  18. Lou Dawson July 27th, 2012 1:56 pm

    Patrick, I understand your position on roads, thanks for the links, and agree that roads have impacts. But I really don’t understand your point of this comment. Could be:

    1. Lou is ignorant.
    2. Somehow Lou is blind.
    3. None of us can know all things, so that means comments from foresters should be viewed with skepticism?
    4. ?

    Cars have impacts, so do tootbrushes. So do roads. I’m fully aware that my favorite backcountry road has an impact. I’m also aware that I myself have an impact. All I’m saying is we can have a few more backcountry roads without causing an environmental apocalypse around here, and that the impacts of roads are frequently over stated. You can provide all the lists you want, I can even make one myself. But feet on the ground, I can go look at hundreds of miles of backcountry roads in Colorado and elsewhere and even on careful examination see very little (to no) particularly heinous environmental impact. Sometimes, I really can’t ascertain anything but the fact that yes, a mouse crossing said road might be 10% more likely to be eaten by an owl. On the other hand, the elk and deer seem to quite enjoy using the road as a migration path for their morning and evening water walks.

    More, as a recreation advocate let me state that I feel many of those impacts, provided they are created responsibly, are worth the tradeoff. To state otherwise would be intellectually dishonest. The same way a person who enjoys traveling has to say that the carbon footprint of air travel is worth it.

    One of the problems with this debate is perhaps we need to define “road.” Is “road” a 6-lane in LA, or a seldom used jeep trail in Nevada? Or perhaps three miles of properly built dirt road leading to a trailhead?

  19. Caleb Wray July 27th, 2012 4:15 pm

    An interesting study would be to compare the environmental impact of the 7 avy paths on the Marble Road releasing and the 40 year fire cycle versus the road being there. It seems like if I was a fish in Yule Creek or an elk in Mud Gulch, I might choose the road deal.

  20. Omr July 27th, 2012 8:34 pm

    I whined long and loud last winter when a favorite access road was gated due to a washout. Yeah, we all drive and we all use roads. That said, roads bring crowds and crowds bring development. The Wasatch is a prime example.

    But even a hugely overused range like Wasatch has tons of untouched terrain if one is willing to walk away from the herd and take on a long, sometimes nasty approach. Overcoming that barrier of entry will deliver great rewards.

    I won’t comment on environmental impacts other than say humans are part of nature and our roads become part of the Eco system. If one does not like roads, stop driving, take the bus, ride a bike, or, dare I say it, walk. Until you do that, in all aspects of your life, don’t criticize my lonely access road.

  21. Patrick July 28th, 2012 1:41 am


    The roads I’m talking about here are back-country, with gravel or native soil surfaces, with very low- to high-volume of traffic. In BC, these are referred to as ‘resource roads’ because usually they’re built to access timber, minerals, oil and gas, etc. (Paved highways also present environmental challenges, but at least state, provincial, and federal highway departments have budgets to address ecosystem and wildlife concerns.)

    Is Lou ignorant? Yes Lou, about back-country roads, I think you are relatively ignorant about the impacts and what to do about them. Really, you’re not a ‘bad person’ (grin). It’s not been your professional pathway to have a deep and broad understanding of roads. You’ve spent decades of your work and play time developing other knowledge and skills (e.g., about outdoor gear and such).

    Myself, I know very little about ski bindings, just enough to mount and adjust them for safety.

    However, in my professional life, resource roads have been a part of my work for 25 years. Indeed, I know many things about back-country roads. The lists of impacts cited in the paper above were in a peer-reviewed professional journal. Lou, the journal peer review process enforces ‘intellectual honesty’.

    There are three main aspects about roads: 1) social (e.g., access to recreation, jobs, or a home site); 2) economic (e.g., access to natural resources, guide-outfitting, timber, minerals, petrol reserves); and 3) environmental aspects. Members of the public rarely have a deep understanding about the environmental impacts of roads. They tend to have a good sense of what they want, but that’s a human-centered understanding and it relates to the social and economic aspects.

    Is Lou blind? Sometimes a strongly held opinion (such as, ‘having more roads is a good thing”) can’t be influenced by technical facts. Because of some of terms you’re using (fear mongering; ecological apocalypse; paranoid fantasy; Great Satan; blasphemy) — I sense you have a very strongly held opinion about roads and road access. On the other hand, above, you agree overall that ‘roads have impacts’.

    Here’s the BIG deal — The US National Forests and the BC government simply don’t have the money to properly maintain the existing hundreds of thousands of miles of roads on their public lands. Simply abandoning roads only works in some situations.

    Wildlife and ecosystems (as well as human wants and economic opportunities) need to be considered when budgeting, planning, building, maintaining roads and when making decisions about decommissioning or abandoning old roads. Taking that fulsome approach would be responsible way to manage roads and access.

    I’m hopeful that the day will come when there’s funding to properly manage back-roads. Maybe in a future decade, we’ll have a Super Fund to rehabilitate and maintain roads.

    And yes, hello, of course, I use back-country roads. That doesn’t reduce my concern about the environmental impacts of roads.

    I ask you, any of you Colorado-based bloggers seen a grizzly bear lately? Seen a wolverine? Which other species have you lost due to high road density? If you’re in northern Idaho, when was the last time you saw a mountain caribou?Roads are really bad news for these critters; the higher the road density, the worse it is for them.

    Sorry for so many words…

  22. Lou Dawson July 30th, 2012 6:55 am

    Patrick, thanks for your take. Again, the discussion here is not about if roads have impact, it’s about the degree of such impact and if trading some of that for recreation access is acceptable. In my view, it is. In your view, it obviously is not.

    The landscape of human discourse is littered with “experts” who were wrong. Thus, there is always room for different takes — even from non experts who still have some knowledge and experience but perhaps not a bunch of letters after their names. Sure, I’m not a road “expert,” but I’ve studied this issue for years (from both sides) and been extremely interested in it for the last two decades due to my recreation interests branching out. To discount any person’s take because they’re not a specialist or “expert” is sophomoric. Anyone with experience and interest in a matter, who’s willing to learn about it, can make a valid contribution and speak with authority. History is packed full of such people.

    As for my use of hyperbole, sure, there are many individuals to whom roads = evil. I’ve met them and spoke with them. Hence, I write as if their views are what I’m speaking to, using the extreme to make a point.

    Any of us who recreate and enjoy attempting intellectual clarity need to address the issue of how we use resources for recreation. In my case, I view backcountry recreation as an essential component of our North American culture and even civilization as a whole. Part of that recreation includes the use of backcountry roads. Thus, my call for keeping our existing backcountry roads, and making a few new ones.

    Another issue with all this, which perhaps an expert (I mean that in a good way) such as yourself could address, is when is a road a trail? And is a 4×4 or ATV trail as bad as a road? By the same token, would a heavily traveled horse trail still be better than a seldom used road?

  23. Njord July 30th, 2012 1:21 pm

    What exactly are “Ecosystem Services” that we are so hell-bent on preserving?

  24. Patrick July 31st, 2012 8:16 pm

    Lou, I’m not against roads as you insist. I agree, people’s opinions are important, and need to be appropriately accounted for. At 67, I wish my legs were sophomoric – and I don’t discount any person’s (thoughtful or heartfelt) take. Flippant blog-bits that I don’t really understand, right, I don’t usually take them into consideration.

    However, I do have issues with road impacts (especially the ones that exist right now).

    For clarity, it can help to separate the following terms: ‘road access’ and ‘roads’.

    1. ‘Road access’ is a broad topic. It’s here where citizens should have a say. Go ahead, fill your boots. ‘Road access’ includes the human side, because humans are the ones wanting roads for access. Regarding ‘road access’, decision makers (e.g., in US Forest Service) are to take into account environmental, social and economic aspects before making decisions about building new roads or repairing or de-commissioning existing roads. Citizens need to provide their input to these decisions (ideas, interests, what they want or need, or whatever their take is about the road access situation). Lou, I believe what you’ve ‘studied’ is ‘road access’.

    2. ‘Roads’ are physical things. Indeed, ‘road experts’ (hydrologists, pedologists, geomorphologists, engineers, foresters, biologists) know a lot of details about the environmental impacts of roads, and they often know what can be done about it (though frequently there’s not the money to do anything about the damages). The experts have deep knowledge, understandings, skills, and insights about road impacts that an interested lay citizen might not see. Believe me, it’s good to have some experts around. These experts are not, however, the ‘decision makers’ about roads.

    About ‘seeing’ (or not seeing) road impacts — I’m uneasy about relying on citizens who say they don’t see any (or just litle-bitty) impacts, because there’s a good chance they can’t see the impacts when they don’t know what to look for.

    I’ll use a Colorado paved road as an example — the same principles apply to gravel backroads. The Boulder Canyon Rd (Hwy 119 Boulder to Nederland). Many WildSnow readers have driven that road. If they have cycled or walked that road, even better, perhaps they could get a better look at the interactions between the road and the creek. Roads tend to originate (and connect) where humans are. Often that’s in valley bottoms. Thus, Hwy 119 occupies a dis-proportionate amount of the valley bottom, relative to before the road existed.

    Hwy 119 frequently encroaches on the natural boundaries of Boulder Creek (the valley floor). The road frequently forces the creek into narrower meanders, a waaaaay more riffle habitat and waaay less pool habitat. This is big-time habitat alteration that affects many critters and creek-bed sediments (to name a few). Anglers know about stream riffles and pools; riffles and pools provide a variety of habitats for fish and other aquatic critters. Briefly and generally, pools contain fine-grained bed materials, such as sand and silt – good resting and feeding sites for fish. Riffles introduce oxygen, and carry food to fish. won’t delve into riparian (creek-side) habitat impacts, though they are extensive.

    Lou, good chance you’ve driven by this and not thought about those impacts in Boulder Canyon. Now stretch your thinking, take into account the similar road riffle-pool impacts on 4-Mile Canyon Road, Sunshine Canyon Rd, and many other canyon-bottom paved and back-county roads on the Rockies eastern slope all the way to the Canadian border. Think a little broader again, to the west – Placerville to Telluride. Maybe sections of the road between Glenwood and Aspen too, though I recall it as a somewhat broader valley. These riffle-pool road impacts are a big deal across the US West. Then add in all the back-roads that snake up canyons across the west side.

    For recreationists who are anglers, this should matter, though they may not have connected the diverse dots between roads and angling.

    Roads access is put in place for humans. To repeat, I’m for road access.

    We (in the US and Canada) have many miles/ kilometres of un-needed roads that are causing big problems… and we’re not dealing with them. At the same time, we have many players who want more road access for whatever their gig (recreation, mines, timber, oil-gas, domestic grazing, etc). Back-country will become front-country; you’ve been on the planet long enough to notice that’s happened in many places.

    When thinking of tradeoffs, we need to be honest and thorough. We need to consider which roads will be repaired, abandoned, and de-commissioned, not just the roads some want to add. If we only think of adding roads (as you’ve mentioned), we just end up with more roads, then more, and then more roads without the funds to ensure that current damages be addressed and the planning to ensure that future road damages don’t occur. Basic stewardship of existing roads would be great – that would help us pass along wonderful opportunities to future generations.

    PS : ATVs, horse trails, ecosystem services, etc — those are other topics Lou. Worthy, but too confusing to address together with this thread.

  25. Patrick July 31st, 2012 8:26 pm

    Google ‘ecosystem services’ or ‘ecosystem goods and services’ (EGS). Tons of information.


    Basically — the benefits people obtain from ecosystems.

    Here’s a short Millennium Ecosystem Assessment definition “grouped ecosystem services into four broad categories: provisioning, such as the production of food and water; regulating, such as the control of climate and disease; supporting, such as nutrient cycles and crop pollination; and cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits.’

    In other words, pretty much all the ecosystem thingees we take for granted and don’t really give much thought to.

    If you want more EGS detail, Google’s the way to go.

  26. Lou Dawson July 31st, 2012 8:46 pm

    Patrick, that is a darned good comment. Thanks. Only bone to pick is that I’ve also seen frontcountry become backcountry (not that that’s necessarily bad, but you don’t seem to pay attention to that, only to the negative). I’ve been around long enough to see that. I was even in Western Colorado here when much of the legal Wilderness was created, and eliminated some jeep trails we used to rage up when we were teenagers and use for frontcountry type “activities.” Common wisdom and politically correct thought dictates that we’re constantly destroying things as humans, but in reality, there is some mighty powerful conservation going on out here in the West. Grand Staircase is a grand example. In fact, if you want better examples of human environmental destruction it might be better to look at some other countries, I can think of a few but won’t name names, and come to think of it, some of those places don’t even have roads, just people using up everything in sight.

    More, one has to wonder, when our area of Colorado was a large grouping of mining districts in the late 1800s, the land rape was amazingly bad. Denuded mountain sides, placer madness, air pollution, water pollution, toxic smelters. For example, people rave about how beautiful Aspen is. They would not have raved when the air was a good part sulfuric acid, the eroded mountain sides were devoid of trees, and miners were dying left and right without any sort of social safety net. Since then that’s pretty stunning progress in terms of conservation and more, though we do have fewer roads than they did back then — perhaps that proves your point (grin). Lou

  27. IK August 6th, 2012 7:37 pm

    Lost somewhere within this argument (or perhaps lost within the comments since they are both long and impassioned) is perhaps a simple solution: Why don’t we select a few existing roads and maintain them to an acceptable standard for year round use? Think of the Snowpark system in OR/WA/CA but add a slightly more aggressive mandate that would keep some otherwise unplowed roads open in the winter. Everyone wins! No new roads and backcountry users get to enjoy expanded access without having to smell like two stroke and/or buying an overpriced sled.
    Before someone jumps in, I will admit that this could increase human impact around the backcountry snowparks and that isn’t necessarily a positive outcome. However, imagine the relative decline in impact if some of these newly plowed access points had previously been sled-only access. Decreasing the number of sleds in a given area might actually diminish the overall human impact. And no, I’m not rabidly anti-sled.

  28. Jacques Deyoe April 13th, 2017 11:43 am


    This is a bit off topic but still mine/access related. My family is looking to buy land around lead king loop to build a backcountry hut to enjoy together year round. We have been shopping around the mining claims and have a few questions for you as you are experienced in this area. If you can help great, if not no worries…we are just gathering info.

    When you own a patented claim what are your property rights? Are you required to have mining activity?

    What has been the biggest challenge owning a cabin on a mining claim?

    Thank You for all you do for the BC community in the Roaring Fork Valley!

  29. Lou Dawson 2 April 15th, 2017 7:53 am

    Hello Jacque, this is pretty basic stuff any Realtor or land attorney knows like the back of their hand. Firstly, a “patented mining claim” is simply private land. For example, nearly all the private land in the upper valley is former mining claims that were eventually patented. That people still call remote patented mining claims “mining claims” is simply a term of art, that sounds fun and interesting but has no specific meaning (other than verbally communicating that the land is indeed available for ownership, which is eventually verified by the title company during the purchase transaction). On the other hand, the purchase of a “claim” might involve both the surface rights and mineral rights, which is a good thing because some claims do have minerals of value and you probably wouldn’t want a mine next to your cabin (though if you could get a mine that sent your kids to college as well as funding 6 of your favorite charities, perhaps it would look different — smile?). Seriously speaking, almost all mining claims in the 1800s in Colorado were created either as downright scams, half baked schemes, or “stocking” schemes involving venture capital based on what the few actual money-making claims were doing in the area. Thus, the likelihood of a modern “claim” having anything worth mining is slim to none.

    Thus, the biggest challenges in all this are no different than developing any other parcel of remote property. Access, and extreme unfair, impractical, or downright discriminatory county land use regulations. Study the county land use code. It’s appalling what’s been slipped by right under our noses. Of course, it’s not all enforced and much is open to interpretation, but overall, the land use codes are not only the main reason we have an affordable housing crises, but they’re also the reason we don’t have more things like excellent commercial backcountry hut operations. Instead, we get expensive mansions that puff up the tax base. If not by design, then by the simple dynamic of economic incentives combined with misguided often totally untrained county officials attempting to “do the right thing.”

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