Here is a road closure fact sheet that explains why and how roads are closed on the Pagosa District.  This was put together in response to a road closure protest that is scheduled for today, November 29, 2016. 

Why are roads closed?

Roads are closed to wheeled motorized vehicles in the winter and spring for several reasons:

  • To protect important winter wildlife areas, the USFS coordinates with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to identify winter wildlife areas where closures are necessary to limit disturbance to wintering wildlife.
  • To protect road surfaces from winter use when roads are not frozen after the first snows arrive. If the road is not completely frozen, the snow will insulate the road surface, resulting in a wet road surface under the snow. Warm periods during the winter result in melting of the snow, which also results in wet road surfaces. Driving on wet roads results in rutting and loss of gravel. Winter road damage impacts the condition and drivability of the roads in summer.
  • To protect closed roads used as designated winter trails for snowmobiling or skiing, which can be damaged by wheeled vehicles.

How are roads closed?

Road closures are not done arbitrarily or without public comment. The Travel Mgmt. Rule (36 CFR 212) required a travel management analysis, which the Pagosa District completed in 2008 for the entire District. This was a public process with opportunities for public comment. It prescribed the season of use for all District roads and motorized trails. The Travel Management Rule also required the creation of a Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) which identifies which roads are open and when. The Pagosa District has an MVUM which is available free of charge.

Prior to 2015, road closure dates were based on condition. This was determined on a case by case basis by looking at each road in the field to determine if they could be left open beyond the Dec. 1 MVUM date. Some of the things considered included road surface conditions, snow depth, public safety concerns, forecasted weather, and wildlife concerns brought up by CPW. This proved to be too time consuming, inefficient, and confusing to the public, so in 2015 we moved to a system wherein we have road closure dates that will not be exceeded. Each road has been assigned one of three closure dates: Dec. 1, Dec. 15, or Dec. 21. This is based on anticipated road surface conditions, snow depth, forecasted weather, wildlife concerns, anticipated uses of the roads (such as popular Christmas tree gathering areas), and winter recreation use.

Do road closures affect winter activities?

Wood Cutting: Wood cutting permits are available starting May 15 and expire Dec. 31. Road closure dates may preclude cutting and removal of firewood on certain roads after Dec. 1. However, many roads are open until Dec. 21 and a few are open all winter (such as the Piedra Road and Mill Creek Road), so there are ample opportunities for firewood gathering.

Christmas Trees: Many roads that are good for Christmas tree gathering are left open until Dec. 21 to allow for this activity.

Access to winter recreation opportunities: In some cases, road closures do limit winter recreation opportunities when snow is present at higher elevations but not at the gate. However, as stated above, roads are closed in the winter and spring to wheeled motorized vehicles for several reasons, including to protect important winter wildlife areas, to protect the road surface, and because some roads are designated winter trails.

Parking and Access: Road closures and snow depth can limit parking, but there are numerous areas near closed gates that do allow for parking if snow conditions permit such as Nipple Mt., Plumtaw, Wolf Creek, Fall Creek, Eightmile, and others. There are also several designated winter trail heads that are maintained by partners at their expense (East Fork, West Fork, Fourmile, First Fork, Turkey Springs). The USFS does not currently have the resources to provide parking or plowing at every gate, or provide for the relocation of gates. We are willing to consider proposals for gate relocations and parking areas. Proposals that come from partners who are willing to provide proponent financing are the most feasible. All proposals will take into consideration resource concerns and multiple uses on the Forest, and it is likely that there are some areas where this may not be an appropriate activity due to multiple resource concerns such as winter wildlife concentration areas (Valle Seco, Eightmile Mesa, Kenney Flats, Chimney Rock).

Different Closure Dates: All ranger districts (Columbine, Dolores and Pagosa) on the San Juan National Forest have set closure dates on a majority of their roads. All closure dates on the San Juan NF range from Dec. 1 to Dec. 31.

Public input for road closures: As stated above, opportunities for public input were provided in 2008 during travel management analysis. The Pagosa District continues to operate under this 2008 decision. Additional opportunities for public input on various aspects of winter travel management will be available beginning in summer 2017 as part of the Forest-wide winter travel management analysis.

One thought on “Road Closure Fact Sheet

  1. Yes, thank you. I would add a point regarding the liability the Forest Service faces for the responsibility the agency has for people who venture beyond gates and get into trouble during periods of bad weather or snow conditions. It has been proven a number of times in recent years that the courts feel the FS has a responsibility to determine when gates should be closed in order to protect the public, and if not, if people are hurt or otherwise when they go past a gate, the FS has had to pay dearly in recompense. That payment has come directly from FS roads and other management budgets, and has resulted in even less maintenance of roads, trails, etc. I find it ironic that the folks who want to keep the roads open offer no good solutions in this regard, saying instead only that we are each responsible for our own welfare. While I honestly understand that feeling, and wish it could be so, it just doesn’t fit today’s world. Instead, folks who want to access the backcountry during Winter should use other methods like snowmobiles, skis, snowshoes, etc. – read: tough it out. Also, who determines the right time when gates should be closed? Who makes that call, if not the FS?


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