Plans to shut down U.S. Forest Service roads typically used as snowmobile thoroughfares in Wyoming’s Snowy Range mountains this winter favors logging over all other users, said a local who owns a cabin in the mountains.
The Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest is supposed to be a “multi-use forest,” and designating winter routes almost exclusively for logging trucks goes against that, making it a “single-use forest,” Scott White told Cowboy State Daily.
White lives in Rock River and owns a cabin in the White Rock Estates on the north end of the Snowy Range.
“I spend just about every weekend up there,” he said. “My cabin is about 27 miles from my home in Rock River.”
Where Did These Gates Come From?
White said he became worried earlier this month when he found new gates installed on one of the main roads into the forest.
The gates were installed by logging contractors, not the Forest Service, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest spokesman Aaron Voos told Cowboy State Daily.
The contractors had become frustrated because simple barriers hadn’t been effective in stopping people from venturing into work zones, Voos said. So, the Forest Service gave permission to install sturdy swinging gates in anticipation of this winter’s operations.
The Forest Service also plans to issue travel permits for property owners so they can use roads plowed by logging contractors this winter to reach their cabins, Voos said.
That could actually make access easier for cabin owners, he said, because they’ll be able to drive to their properties rather than having to park near the Arlington exit off of Interstate 80 and snowmobile in.
Leaving the roads open to recreational snowmobile traffic during logging wouldn’t be safe, Voos added.
“It’s a safety thing. We can’t have snowmobiles and big logging trucks both trying to travel on those roads,” Voos said.
In Winter, Roads Become Snowmobile Trails
At issue is the public use of Forest Service roads that usually become snowmobile trails during the winter.
Typically, the Forest Service doesn’t plow most of its network of roads in the Snowy Range during the winter. Instead, the snowbound roads are groomed for snowmobile traffic.
The Snowies are a premier snowmobiling destination for Wyomingites and tourists thanks to robust snowfall and great topography, including large open meadows near the top of the range.
Last winter, storms dumped up to 7 feet of fresh powder in parts of the Snowy Range, much to the delight of snowmobilers. There’s hope for another banner season this year.
Smith said that even if he and other cabin owners are allowed access to their properties, repurposing so many groomed trails into logging roads could have a chilling effect on winter fun.
“They could essentially be cutting off the whole north end of the Snowies to everything except logging,” he said.
He stressed that he and others questioning the trail closures aren’t against logging, and they appreciate the logging companies and sawmills.
“We are not anti-loggers. We want the loggers to clean up that forest. The forest should have been cleaned up 15 years ago,” White said. “So, we want the loggers in there.”
Bad For Business?
Closing snowmobile trails also raises the question of how businesses that depend on winter tourism will be affected.
Barb and Troy Wallace own the Ten Mile Inn along Wyoming Highway 130 above Saratoga. Cutting off snowmobile access to the site could kill their business, Barb Wallace told Cowboy State Daily.
The couple was alarmed when they first heard about plans to close general access and plow some of the roads for logging.
She said her husband called the Forest Service, and an agency official reassured him that at least two trails will be left open to allow visitors to get to and from the Ten Mile Inn and neighboring businesses.
“He made it sound like we’re still going to be able to get enough customers, so I’m not stressed about it yet,” Barb Wallace said.
The Ten Mile Inn offers food, drink and lodging throughout the winter, and business is frequently brisk, she said. Many of the customers come from the Midwest to enjoy Wyoming’s mountains.
“We get a lot of people from Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. They’ve been coming here year after year,” she said.
Details Still Being Worked Out
Smith said he’s concerned because although winter logging has been going on in the north end of the Snowy Range for a few years, he’s never seen so many roads earmarked for logging traffic.
Voos said some of the details, including the exact number of roads and milage of the routes loggers will use, haven’t been completely worked out. The Forest Service hopes to have plans finalized and released to the public, possibly as soon as this week, in time for logging operations to commence in mid-December.
The amount of timber in the designated logging sale areas is vast, so it’s also uncertain whether the operations will continue next winter or possibly beyond, he added.
The logging contractors asked for more roads this winter to have better access to sawmills on both the Laramie and Saratoga sides of the mountains via Highway 130.
At least some roads are plowed specifically for logging in the Snowy Range every winter, but “this year it’s going to be a larger chunk because of the distance from the timber sale sites to the highway,” Voos said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.