The Park County commissioners are asking the Shoshone National Forest to delay its travel management plan until in-person public comments can be made.
Since the Preliminary Environmental Assessment was released on July 30, the Forest Service has held only one virtual meeting to discuss the plan. A pre-recorded video relating to the north zone of the SNF was also released. Comments are due on Sept. 28. Documents are available online including a 338-page document outlining the plan.
“It could be so much easier to do,” said commissioner Dossie Overfield.
Park County Commission Chairman Joe Tilden described the travel management plan process as being set up as “extremely complicated” on purpose. There were public meetings related to the plan were held between 2015-2017.
Members of the local ATV and snowmobile communities spoke at Tuesday’s commissioner meeting.
In the plan, the Forest Service delineates three “alternatives” for what could happen to future travel use in the National Forest.
Alternative 1 is the status quo which the commissioners expressed the most support for.
“It is vitally important that there are no road closures and the Shoshone National Forest remains accessible to the general public for motorized use,” the commissioners’ letter to the National Forest states.
The commissioners also ask for adding of loop roads and trails under Alternative 1.
Alternative 2 offers measures like transitioning roads to trails, seasonal closures and decommissioning of certain roads. Alternative 3 offers even more restrictive regulations and closings except for the caveat of no official season for over-snow vehicle use.
Alternative 2 would decrease system roads by 16% and increase trails by 449%, resulting in a 1.7% increase in total routes. In the north zone, this would include an addition of 6 miles of small spur roads to allow legal access to dispersed campsites, but Tilden expressed doubt about this positive actually occurring.
“With budgetary constraints that they have in the federal government right now we’re not going to see any loop roads,” he said. “It’s kind of a bait and switch in my mind.”
Under Alternative 2, 150 miles of roads would become trails or decommissioned, while under Alternative 3 this would be 164 miles to become trails or decommissioned.
“They start here and keep taking, taking, taking,” Tilden said.
Roads that transition to trails are still accessible for automobiles like cars and trucks but any wheeled motorized vehicle has to obtain a $15 Wyoming State Trails permit to use a trail. The Alternative 3 proposal restricting trails to wheeled vehicles 64-inches wide or less limits the type of operable vehicle on routes, limiting to mostly smaller ATVs.
Former commissioner Loren Grosskopf spoke as a representative for ATV riders. He expressed concern over the impacts a change in a gate point could have in severing access to portions of the Morrison Jeep Trail in the Clarks Fork, and possible closures and decommissioning to the Sweetwater Road in the North Fork. However, SNF staff said only a .09 mile spur road would be decommissioned, and that eastern access on the Jeep Trail would actually be increased to year-round until the juncture with Forest Trail 120.
Under Alternative 2 the Sweetwater Road would be restricted to vehicles 64 inches wide or less, with the northernmost portion decommissioned. Alternative 3 would close the entire road to public vehicles with the same decommissioning.
“The full closure of Sweetwater Road … that road gives us accessibility to 20 different drainages,” Grosskopf said.
Grosskopf said prior offers to help with maintenance to this road have been denied.
The letter states the commissioners would prefer Alternative 2 over Alternative 3.
The commissioners would stand by the desires of the Cody Country Snowmobile Association, who’s leadership likes parts of Alternatives 1 and 2.
“The use of snow machines are very vital for this community,” Tilden said.
Grosskopf and the commissioners did say they would support more collaborative efforts for funding of maintenance efforts as well between private and public groups and the Forest Service.
“We do depend on tourism dollars but also access to the National Forest,” Commissioner Lee Livingston said. “A lot of people come here for the access to the public lands and I don’t want to put any more restrictions on that.”