The Western Slope 4-Wheelers, Uncompahgre Valley Trail Riders, Thunder Mountain Wheelers, and Trails Preservation Alliance pooled their resources to contribute $625 to each county to help support the Alpine Ranger Project.
Area chapters of Trout Unlimited have also made recent donations of similar amounts of money to the project, which faced a significant scaling back of scope due to declining assessed values and property tax revenues in San Juan County, the primary funder of the program, said San Juan County Administrator William Tookey.
“We had to cut several places and the Alpine Ranger Project was one place we were considering,” Tookey said. “By receiving the donated funds, we’re able to keep it going at its current level and might even extend a few weeks into the fall.”
The Alpine Ranger Project is a joint venture between San Juan County and Hinsdale County, the goal of which is to hire a backcountry ranger to patrol the rugged, heavily traveled 65-mile Alpine Loop and other four-wheel-drive roads in the region throughout the summer months.
The ranger patrols between Silverton and Lake City, as well as venturing into Ouray County via Corkscrew and Engineer passes, and into San Miguel County via Ophir Pass, Tookey said.
In its three years of existence, San Juan County and Hinsdale County have each annually contributed $10,000 and $5,000 respectively to the Alpine Ranger Project. The ranger, in the person of Tom Reyburn of Lake City, operates out of the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department, which supervises him and provides a vehicle.
As a law enforcement officer, Reyburn does have the authority to issue tickets to violators of backcountry traffic rules. Law enforcement issues generally have to do with the increasingly ubiquitous all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) – which are sometimes caught driving off-road, or being operated by underage drivers, Tookey explained. “I think last year he issued two or three tickets for the whole season.”
Officials in Ouray and San Miguel counties, meanwhile, have partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to hire their own ranger to address the bulk of their summer backcountry patrolling needs. This ranger, Warren Barker, is a Forest Service employee rather than a law enforcement employee, but provides essentially the same service.
“Both are out there to help the public,” Tookey said.
As a Montrose-based non-profit organization working to promote safe and responsible motorized recreation to the Western Slope, the Western Slope 4-Wheelers Off-Road Club values the service that the Alpine Ranger Project provides, said a spokesman for that group, Ken Emery.
“It’s a very positive program and has reduced vandalism and environmental degradation,” Emery said. “And, it has saved lives. It is a safety and educational program that we in the local motorized community support and applaud. We’re just trying to help them out because we understand that right now, it’s kind of tight.”