Success In Colorado’s High Country: How to protect an area for non-motorized recreation

By Cindy Farny, High Camp Hut, Telluride CO

For nine years, with the help of Winter Wildlands Alliance, Cindy Farny worked to protect this special backcountry skiing area for generations to come.

I have spent the last nine years working to get the area above the High Camp Hut in southwestern Colorado closed to snowmobiles after the Forest Service recommended that the area be designated as a Research Natural Area (RNA). I started writing comments and working with the Forest Service early in the process and continued until the area was finally protected.

You must have a passion for the land you want to see protected. I like to joke that we would not have National Parks if it were not for the people that fought to get them designated. Many state parks, National Monuments, and recreational sites have been protected because someone put in a lot of effort.

Just like me, they joined organizations, talked with scientists, found other like-minded people to help write letters and met with agency decision makers. I ended up giving four site tours of the area to the Forest Service during this nine year process. I made the most of these tours by providing pictures, economic information, and reasons why it would be good for them to make the decision I was advocating for.

I was lucky to become involved with Winter Wildlands Alliance early on in my efforts to protect this area. Winter Wildlands Alliance provided me with lots of good information and support. It is a lonely feeling sometimes trying to make something happen. Many of my friends lost interest in the process. They had written letters and did not feel that there was a need to continue being involved. There are too many things that eat up our time and compete for our attention, making it difficult to remain focused on a multi-year Forest Service decision-making process. It also takes a toll on your personal life!

Research Natural Areas (RNAs) are areas that the Forest Service designates for permanent protection to maintain them in a natural condition. To protect the Grizzly Peak RNA I first had to convince the Forest Service to include this designation in the new San Juan Forest Plan. Then, I had to make the Forest Service aware that designating the area as a RNA and then allowing snowmobile use within it was a contradiction. They finally agreed.

highcamphut.summer04However, in order to actually close the RNA to motorized use the Forest Service had to do an Environmental Assessment (EA), which they did not have the capacity to do. In the meantime snowmobiles could continue going into the area. Eventually I found a contractor, Mountain Studies Institute, who could do the EA and the Forest Service hired them. Finally, on January 13, 2016 the Rocky Mountain Research Station and the Regional Forester signed off on the completed EA and the Grizzly Peak RNA was officially closed to snowmobiles. It took nine long years and many ups and downs but I am proud to say that I helped protect a special backcountry skiing area for future generations.

I am glad this process is over but more than ever I am committed to winter travel planning. With the inspiration of Mark Menlove from Winter Wildlands Alliance I am trying to bring motorized and non -motorized users together to help the San Juan National Forest create a winter travel plan. I have to admit I have not had much luck so far but I will keep trying. Protecting quiet landscapes inspires me to continue this dialog amongst winter recreationists. We need to learn to work together and plan together. We cannot expect the Forest Service to make the right decisions if we — the user groups — cannot even talk to each other and figure out where we agree or disagree.

I have noticed that quiet users often do not want to get involved in these decision making processes, but we need to! We need to start early in the process and stick with it. In the end there is the reward of knowing that we protected something for future generations to enjoy. Once you get a favorable decision you are inspired to help others.

So, get involved with planning and protecting the places you love to recreate in. The world is changing and you cannot afford to be asleep at the wheel!