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  • Andy Hitch

Bunce School Road Closed to ATV's - What Really Happened

First thing you need to understand is that parts of Bunce School Road are county roads where ATV's have never been legal.

My company first started operating there in 2010. I was told by the local police that ATV's weren't legal in certain areas, but that they didn't have the manpower to enforce the laws. Basically, they weren't going to do anything about it until Boulder county forced their hand.

I knew what that meant. I knew the power rested in hands of just one man. One land owner (the only land owner who actually lived up there full time). So, my ATV rental company, and the other one permitted to operate up there built a relationship with this man.

For 10 years we helped him anyway we could. We gave him a side x side, pulled him out when he was stuck, and returned his dog when he ran away, just to name a few things. If he asked us to change something, move out of the way, or quack like a duck, we did it. Yes, it benefited us, but it also benefitted every other OHV rider on that trail.

We didn't just do things for him, we did things for the trail and surrounding forest. We installed every foot of fence you now see along that trail. We cleaned up all the trash, bullet shells, and foul human waste for 11 years. My company personally averaged 2 full bags of trash every day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for 11 years. Do the math. Every unauthorized trail was blocked by yours truly, and I loved every minute of that work. I took pride in keeping our National Forest beautiful. Every sign and trail marker was installed by me, at my cost. Every year I had to replace roughly 30% of them due to people shooting them.

Competed fence on 217 we did with the Forest Service

Scraping off spray paint

Blocking off trail activity (4 years and still holding) It's beautiful and lush now.

Hauling out another load of shooting trash

Replacing trail markers

Rebuilt the plane crash sign and reinstalled

Collecting shells. Unfortunately most are Russian 223 cases, so they're rusted and have no value.

Repair and replacing sign

Shot gun wads and trash in water way. This is the before picture. The next is the after pic

We did over 1000 feet of water way just off 217

No other way to do it when picking up shells. You gotta get on your hands and knees.

Combination of shooting and camper trash

This structure was built in the National Forest by campers. We tore it down and hauled it away.

Working with the Forest Service. We built 600 feet of fence on upper 105 in order to protect the meadow.

One end of the fire we put out

Most importantly, on two occasions I personally stopped a potential forest fire from campfires left burning that ended up ravaging the trees around them. Thankfully we always kept water, shovels, a chainsaw, and fire extinguishers on hand at all times. As well as a sat phone so we could dial 911 and get immediate response. In 2019 a wildfire broke out. We smelled it and raced out to the location. When we arrived, it was an acre in size and growing. We gathered all of our guys and some local riders, surrounded the fire with shovels, water, and chainsaws and contained it. The next day, hot shots were called in. The had little to do.

I can't tell you how many injured local riders we served and saved.

2020 was the straw that broke the camel's back. That was one hell of a year as we all know. Between the fires and the outdoor boom, National Forest trails in our area of Colorado took a heavy hit.

The outdoor boom due to COVID was the biggest negative impact. It seamed that everybody went out and bought a Jeep, ATV, or Side x Side and Bunce was the only trail they knew about (being new riders). Prior to COVID my company operated with 15 machines on Bunce. The other company ran 35 - 40. We would see about 18 local riders on any given weekend day. So, all total there would be roughly 70 riders on Bunce on a weekend day. Half way into 2020, the average increased to roughly 200. By Dec 2020, the ATV rental operations were asked to decrease to 10 machines each. It had little effect though, the local numbers were increasing rapidly and to add fuel to the fire (no pun intended), the Cameron Peak fire forced all other Northern Colorado riders to Bunce and a couple other nearby trails.

At this point, the land owner who lives up there had enough, and rightfully so. He got himself a hotshot attorney and went after the Forest Service and Boulder County. Needless to say, they didn't want that kind of trouble. So, my company and the other one were quickly kicked to the curb. It was the only thing they had power over. It was okay by me though. I was ready to leave at that point. Things were getting way out of hand up there. The traffic was absolutely insane and I could barely keep up with the repairs to the trail and trash collection. It didn't help that the other company decided to increase their fleet back to normal numbers. I stayed at 10, but it didn't matter.

Right away the county installed "No OHV" signs in those areas where ATV's were never legal in the first place. One is located at the bottom of 105 (near Peaceful Valley) because the road goes through a small sliver of private property, thus, it's considered a "county road", not a Forest Service road where OHV's are legal. The other was installed 105 near trail 216, where private property begins and continues for the next mile and half.

In my opinion, and I expressed this to the Forest Service on a number of occasions, they never should have permitted two ATV rental companies to operate on the same trail. It was too much. This is why I always kept my fleet at 15 or less. I could have run 30 or 40 machines as well, but I didn't feel it was right. I wanted a smaller footprint, one that wouldn't negatively impact local users of the trail. Little good it did though. The Forest Serviced had us operate right next to each other, so the public viewed us as one operation.

But again, that wasn't the downfall of Bunce. The COVID outdoor boom is what did it in. Two weeks after we were gone, the place went to hell in a hand bag. I checked on it one day and there was trash and unauthorized trails everywhere. It was a literal free for all shit show with nobody left to take care of it.

Here's something you need to understand. The Forest Service is primarily a "management agency". They don't have the manpower to clean and repair trails. They simply manage the work. I'm not trying to talk badly about the Forest Service. I'm telling you this because so many of you blame outfitters who profit from National Forest land. You don't realize the money and work outfitters and OHV clubs put into the trails you get to enjoy.

I'm no longer an outfitter. But I still get out there and clean trails any chance I get because I love the work. Bunce is dead to me though. I've collected my last dirty diaper, shot up TV, shit filled 5 gallon bucket, hypodermic needle, and burned up couch. There are enough land owners strung along that trail, I think they should get off their butt and do some work.

Switching gears for a second, there is a program you should know about. In 2016, Obama wrote an executive order for the National Forest. This "pilot program" directed the Forest Service to utilize outfitters to repair and maintain your National Forest trails since the Forest Service doesn't have the manpower to do it. Those in power saw the benefit in those who actually had boots on the ground every day, who had the money, and the manpower to do the work. In trade, the Forest Service would discount the fees they charge outfitters. Keep in mind, the fees I paid to the Forest Service as an outfitter didn't go to our local Forest Service District. My money went straight to a collection agency in Los Angeles California. Over 10 years, I'd pay $300,000 in fees. Imagine for a moment what $300,000 could accomplish on one single trail rather than being filtered up to DC.

I was asked by the Forest Service in Boulder at the end of 2016 to look into the program and devise a plan of action in their District for my company. I was excited because there were many times I was willing to pay a good deal of money out of my own pocket to repair certain things the Forest Service didn't have the budget for.

I hooked up with a guy who had a major role in the creation of the program. They were currently utilizing the program in National Forest districts in Montana with great success. After the research and planning, I got with the Boulder Ranger District to work out the details. However, they no longer had any interest in the program.

The pilot program still exists and is still utilized in other states. Colorado is NOT one of them. You can view this program right on the main National Forest web page. Why our ranger districts aren't utilizing the program as directed seriously concerns me.

It is my opinion that an outfitter should be permitted on every National Forest trail / road and the pilot program should be utilized. It accomplishes very important things:

  1. The USDA "obliterates" nearly 2000 miles of trails a year nation wide due to budget restraints. This program would help keep our trails open. This is very important when it comes to firefighting. There is a reason they were initially called "fire roads".

  2. Much more money would be spent on trails in your area rather than fees filtered up the chain and ending in DC.

  3. You would see major improvements and repairs on your trails and the surrounding forest rather than Bandaids.

  4. You could potentially see additional trails / fire roads created and/or reopened (if approved by the Forest Service).

  5. You would see improved signage, better trash collection, and considerably less off trail activity and damage.

I believe the Boulder Ranger District had a knee jerk reaction to the outdoor boom problem. Other outfitters were kicked to the curb as well due to the "over use" issue at the time. Instead though, they should have leaned into the resource they had at their disposal. Demanding more from outfitters by utilizing the pilot program could have been very beneficial to all (including every day users of the trail).

I will back up the Forest Service on some decisions though. There are outfitters out there who do nothing for the trails they operate on. Again though, I believe it's incumbent upon the Forest Service to demand and regulate higher quality / honest outfitters who work well with the public and maintain a small footprint.

Andy Hitch

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