Trying to protect Colorado forests that hundreds of thousands more people visit each year, the U.S. Forest Service is reining in the rental companies that deliver ATVs and snowmobiles at trailheads.
Forest managers say they’ll also scrutinize mountain-bike-rental operations as part of a push to set “commercial capacity” limits. Two companies that drop off and pick up ATVs and snowmobiles at the Vail Pass summit parking area have received shut-down orders.
“Not all proposed commercial activities are appropriate for the location proposed, and some are not appropriate on national Forest Service lands at all,” White River National Forest ranger Jan Cutts said in an e-mailed response to Denver Post queries.
Rentals of motorized and non-motorized vehicles have exploded in recent years, with mountain-bike companies supplying 2,000 or more visitors on peak days atop Vail Pass, which straddles two of Colorado’s busiest tourism counties.
While the bike riders generally stick to paved paths along Interstate 70, dozens of rented all-terrain vehicles and, in winter, snowmobiles, roar into once-remote woods and can reach fragile alpine tundra, terrain traditionally revered as wilderness.
“We saw, this year, a huge increase in the frequency with which these businesses were delivering (vehicles to people),” Cutts said.
Mountain-bike operations “are not off the hook because they are nonmotorized,” she said. “They are commercial businesses.”
Federal land managers say they must balance commercial use with protection of public forests, which serve as watersheds and as habitat for wildlife. But this is causing conflict with people who make their living by delivering machines to increasingly savvy consumers of mountain recreation experiences.
“It’s killing me,” said Scott Wilson, owner of Colorado Backcountry Rentals. Wilson rents 20 sleds in the winter and 15 ATVs in the summer — a business he established in 2004.