Snowmobilers plead to keep area open |

Snowmobilers plead to keep area open

Patrick McCartney

Snowmobilers defended their sport Saturday at an often emotional hearing in Markleeville, calling a proposed closure of a popular Alpine County recreational area by the U.S. Forest Service unfair and elitist.

Representatives of Tahoe Basin snowmobile groups submitted petitions opposing any possible restriction in the 3-square-mile area surrounding Forestdale Creek Road, where cross country skiers are seeking the right to exclusive access during the winter.

The Forest Service’s Carson Ranger District is considering the closure as part of a court-stipulated settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club’s Loma Prieta and San Francisco chapters. The Sierra Club had argued that closing the popular area is the only way to resolve conflicts between the two recreational groups.

But snowmobilers, who outnumbered skiers at the standing-room-only meeting at Turtle Rock Park, said they have already lost access to large swaths of Alpine County over the last 20 years with the creation of federally designated wilderness areas. Motorized travel is forbidden in wilderness areas.

“The more you shut down areas for us, the more congestion you create,” said snowmobile user Chris Hart. “We need to look at expanding areas.”

Those in favor of restricting snowmobiles from Forestdale Creek cited the conflict between the two outdoor sports, largely from the noise and speed of the snowmobiles.

“The whine of the engines can be heard for miles,” said John Brissenden of Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley. “This is a sport that cries out for containment.”

Marcus Libkind, a member of the Sierra Club’s Nordic Voice group that lobbied for the closure, said the affected area represents just 10 percent of the 30 square miles of Alpine County that are most popular to both sports.

Other skiers complained that a minority of snowmobilers are reckless and pose a threat to skiers using the same road.

“Forestdale Road is a dangerous road,” said Lynn Beamon of Alpine County. “I’m not opposed to snowmobiles; what I’m opposed to are the few of you who go too fast. It’s a self-righteous attitude.”

But snowmobilers said they had used Forestdale Creek Road for years before skiers began entering the area when California began plowing State Route 88 during the winter after 1972.

And snowmobiles offer the disabled a way to visit the wilderness, their users told the Forest Service, as well as providing an essential service in search and rescue operations.

A few snowmobilers angrily criticized the role of the Sierra Club in forcing the Forest Service to consider the ban.

“We’re beginning to resent that outside organizations are telling us how to run our county,” said Gregg Gemmet, who described himself as a long-time resident of Alpine County.

“I think the Sierra Club has gone too far,” added Dale Sare.

While 40 percent of Alpine County has been set aside as wilderness area since 1984, much of the wilderness is too far away from trailheads for skiers to access, said Jocelyn Biro, the Forest Service recreation specialist in charge of evaluating the proposal.

By Dec. 1, Biro said, the Forest Service will consider several options, including a closure, partial closure or no action.

The Forest Service will continue to accept public comments until April 6.

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