BOULDER — The U.S. Forest Service has for the first time officially said it will consider charging four-wheel drivers and dirt bikers to use the Left Hand Canyon off-road area.
In a letter to the off-road and environmental communities, Boulder District Ranger Christine Walsh said her staff is also proposing to close the off-highway vehicle area near Jamestown from dusk to dawn.
The Forest Service has traditionally not charged people to use the public lands it manages. But continuing federal cutbacks mean Walsh’s district lacks the money to adequately supervise the area.
That means either closing it or finding funds elsewhere. Total closure remains an option, although one unpopular with both the Forest Service and off-roaders.
“Fees help us,” said deputy District Ranger Ed Perault. “It helps us sustain our ability to manage the area.”
According to the planning team, the fees would both generate money to manage the area and reduce the number of users.
The area, criss-crossed with both legal and illegal roads, is highly susceptible to erosion and cluttered with trash from target shooters who plunk old appliances and other junk.
And one of the most popular off-road routes, Carnage Canyon, runs largely up the bed of a year-round stream. The area where people drive on that road gets wider each year, as they strive to find new ways over and around car-sized boulders.
The Forest Service is moving ahead with its fee proposal, with the attitude that people who pay an entry fee will treat the area better than if they get in free.
The proposal, dated April 4, is aimed at soliciting specific comments from users, environmental activists and area residents.
From those comments, the Forest Service will develop several alternative proposals. One will call for no change to current conditions and the others will represent increasing amounts of restrictions. Walsh will eventually pick one of the options or select elements from several.
Off-road drivers are treading carefully around the proposal. They recognize that the Forest Service is under the gun to improve conditions at the OHV area, and many drivers say they’re willing to pitch in.
Valerie Douglas, a spokeswoman for the Rocky Mountain Off-Highway Vehicle Patrol, said her group represents responsible users.
Douglas is also running the Left Hand OHV greeter program, a volunteer effort to get drivers to stay on marked trails. She said a fee would help the Forest Service improve maintenance, but is seeking assurances the money would remain in the Boulder district.
“The problem I have is that they may not keep that money in the area,” Douglas said. “I would like to see some accountability for the money staying in the Left Hand OHV area.”
Wednesday, taking a break from riding his dirt bike, Boulder resident Scott Voorhis said he’d stop coming to the OHV area if he had to pay. He said he already avoids the area on weekends because it’s so crowded.
But he said he could see why the Forest Service would be interested in changing the way people use the area, particularly the Carnage Canyon route.
“When I started coming here 15 years ago, you couldn’t get a dirt bike up there,” Voorhis said.
The route is now so wide, with so many bypasses, that even only slightly “lifted” OHV vehicles can make it up.
Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at