As the power of snowmobiles has increased in recent years, snowmobiling has become more of a "challenge" sport and many snowmobilers have sought out steeper terrain that was previously inaccessible. In northern Utah, this shift has brought more snowmobilers into the Wasatch Front range, where snowshoers and ski mountaineers could once count on getting away from the noise, pace, and pollution of the cities. Recent years have also seen an alarming number of avalanches set off by snowmobilers in the Wasatch Front range.
Fortunately, the new Wasatch-Cache National Forest Plan recognizes this growing problem and sets aside most of the Wasatch Front for nonmotorized winter recreation. Areas of traditional snowmobile use in the Ogden Ranger District (Box Elder Creek, Public Grove, and the entire Monte Cristo plateau) remain open to snowmobiling. The new closures of the Willard and Lewis Peak areas took effect for the 2003-04 season.
As the photos below show, these new closures actually exist only on paper. There has been no serious attempt to implement them on the ground or to inform snowmobilers of the newly closed areas. Thus, the Forest Service is in violation of President Nixon's Executive Order 11644, which states that public land managers must "ensure that areas and trails where off-road vehicle use is permitted are well marked...."
Click on any image for a larger version (typically 100k). All photos by Dan Schroeder, Ogden Sierra Club.
|This map shows the area (shaded in red) where we observed hundreds of snowmobile tracks in the newly closed area, southwest of the Weber County line. The yellow shading highlights the wind-blown ridge where snowmobilers had recently traveled over insufficient snow and bare ground.|
|Access to the newly closed area is via the town of Mantua and the unplowed Willard Basin road. Soon after crossing onto the National Forest, the road passes by Dock Flat, a popular area for dispersed camping (and illegal ATV play) during the summer. This photo of the kiosk at Dock Flat was taken on February 21, 2004. There is no indication of the new closure at the county line (about four miles further up the road), and in fact a copy of the old Ogden District travel map is still posted, incorrectly indicating that the entire Willard Peak area is still open to snowmobiles. We informed the District Ranger of this problem on February 27.|
|On March 17, when this photo was taken, the kiosk at Dock Flat still displayed the obsolete travel map, with no indication of the closure above. (All of the remaining photos below were also taken on March 17.)|
|About four miles up the road from Dock Flat, we come to the ridge where the road crosses into Weber County. This is the boundary of the newly closed area, yet there is no indication of the closure anywhere along the ridge. (Forest Service staff later told us that they had made no attempt to mark the boundary.) Snowmobile tracks continue along the road and up to the ridges in the distance.|
|About a half mile into the closed area, snowmobilers used this slope for "high-marking".|
|A higher slope, about a mile into the closed area, is also covered by dozens of snowmobile tracks. Although the avalanche danger was low when this photo was taken, at other times this slope could be deadly both to snowmobilers and to quiet recreationists who may be in the valley below.|
|These tracks lie along the ridge that marks the Weber County line. Although snowmobiling along the ridge within the National Forest is permitted, the new Forest Plan states that snowmobiling is never allowed where the snow depth is less than one foot. This language is buried in the text of the plan and has not been widely publicized, so again the rule exists only on paper.|
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Last modified on 7 April 2004.