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Guest opinion: Don’t let Boulder County control Rollins Pass road

Thank you for focusing attention on the Rollins (Corona) Pass and Boulder Wagon Road closure issue. Your November 10 article about these roads contains worrisome and inaccurate statements by Boulder County Commissioner Ben Pearlman, which I would like to address. In the recent article Boulder County Commissioner Pearlman is quoted as saying:

“We have a long way to go in resolving these issues,” But, “if all of those issues can be resolved to our satisfaction, then we can really start talking about whether it makes sense,” The project could face much public scrutiny on the east side of the Divide. A large number of Boulder County constituents worry opening up the area to through traffic could entice off-roaders to forge trails in wilderness.”

The legislation that ultimately became the James Peak Wilderness and Protection Area Act (JPWPAA, aka Public Law 107-216) was originally introduced in 1999 to the 105th Congress by then Congressmen David Skaggs. As negotiations with local Colorado officials and public hearings ensued, the bill was reintroduced and sponsored in the 106th and 107th Congresses by then-Rep. Mark Udall. Gilpin, Grand and Boulder counties along with the U.S. Forest Service and other stakeholders sat at the negotiating table for years to arrive at a wording acceptable to all parties. The bill was referred to the entire House of Representatives in late 2001 after substantial modification, including addition of Section 7b, quoted below. The U.S. House and Senate passed the bill, and George W. Bush signed it into law in August 2002.



Section 7(b) of the JPWPAA states:

ROLLINS PASS ROAD. – If requested by one or more of the Colorado Counties of Grand, Gilpin, and Boulder, the Secretary shall provide technical assistance and otherwise cooperate with respect to repairing the Rollins Pass road in those counties sufficiently to allow two-wheel-drive vehicles to travel between Colorado State Highway 119 and U.S. Highway 40. If this road is repaired to such extent, the Secretary shall close the motorized roads and trails on Forest Service land indicated on the map entitled “Rollins Pass Road Reopening: Attendant Road and Trail Closures, dated September 2001.”



For the record, Grand and Gilpin counties have made numerous written requests to the U.S. Forest Service to reopen the Rollins Pass Road. The Forest Service has refused to act, and Boulder County officials have continuously blocked all action.

Senator Mark Udall’s lead staffer Doug Young has said he drafted Section 7(b) and has stated that all three counties along with the U.S. Forest Service were given the above wording for approval and had their opportunity to comment prior to its enactment into law. Doug Young goes on to state:

“Just so that everyone knows, this was drafted as part of the compromise of considering the reopening of the Rollins Pass Road under the Act. It was understood at the time of the Act’s passage that, because the Rollins Pass Road has been closed, there have been a number of by-passes, cut-offs, and other trails that have developed by users of the area. As a result, we wanted to address those (which may be causing some impacts to the resources along the road) in the context of this Act and the reopening of the Road. It was felt that if and when this Road was reopened, that these detours and cut-offs ought to be closed as the need for them would be eliminated and so as to help restore the resources. …

“I wanted to also note that when I worked with the Forest Service on the map for the boundary of the James Peak Wilderness Area and the Protection Area after this bill was enacted, we made sure that the so-called “Boulder Wagon Road” was drawn outside of the Wilderness Area boundary and that it was drawn outside the boundary of any special management on the Protection Area side.”

The Rollins (Corona) Pass Road and the Boulder Wagon Road are over 100 years old. Both date back to the early days of Colorado history. The intent of the law and the drawing of the Wilderness boundaries was to exclude the Rollins (Corona) Pass Road and the Boulder Wagon Road corridor from the restricted areas.

Relatively short segments of these roads cross the southwest corner of Boulder County. These roads provide invaluable public access to enjoy Colorado historic sites and the adjacent Wilderness Areas . They are well defined rocky dirt roads like many throughout Colorado and serve as a direct route over the Continental Divide. Until recently both of these roads were under 50-plus years of continuous use by motor vehicles.

Regional Forester Rick Cables stated in a recent letter to me that this “road corridor is part of the federal estate,” yet Commissioner Pearlman seems to believe Boulder County alone controls this road corridor. Does Mr. Pearlman disagree with the Regional Forester on who owns these roads on federal lands ? It is also my understanding that Boulder County does not provide any funding or perform any maintenance on the Rollins Pass Road.

Does Boulder County have the standing to unilaterally require re-negotiation of federal law and what was already decided in a fair process in which all parties arrived at an agreement in the spirit of compromise?

Even after years there has been very little if any peripheral tundra damage from what Mr. Pearlman calls “off-roaders” (who in fact are actually on-roaders when using the roads). If there was a situation where damage was occurring by people going off these roads, those areas could very easily be cabled to prevent the problem.

We would encourage you to join us in compelling the U.S. Forest Service and Boulder County officials to cooperate with Grand and Gilpin counties to re-open the Rollins Pass road and the Boulder Wagon Road as intended per JPWPAA Section 7(b).

– Steve Green lives in Golden and recreates in the Rollins Pass area.


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