Noise is polluting our environment, and like other pollutants has been on the increase in many natural areas, including the Arkansas River Valley. A quiet hike in nature can be interrupted by the roar of ATVs on a trail or through a historic wilderness site that can damage land that should be protected.

The Quiet Use Coalition (QUC) was formed 22 years ago in the Upper Arkansas Valley. It continues to work, often behind the scenes, to preserve and create quiet-use areas while protecting natural soundscapes and wildlife habitat.

Tom Sobal, a local spokesperson for Quiet Use, says the organization tries to work with land management agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on projects and land restoration. Most often, they seek no outside recognition – simply focused on the goal of helping preserve open lands and natural habitat.

A group of Quiet Use Coalition volunteers on trail work in 2018. (Courtesy photo)

Sobal said as an environmental advocacy organization, Quiet Use has lobbied management agencies to implement existing decisions.  On occasion, the group has filed lawsuits over some controversial decisions that affect the environment.

Although the vast majority of public land users, like hikers, bikers, fishermen and others are quiet-users, the organization sometimes gets negative feedback from some individuals and groups over their work.

Quiet Use also has an active conservation volunteer program, donating hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars for projects. It often partners with public land management agencies such as the USFS and BLM to preserve and improve trails and natural habitat.

The Coalition has asked agencies to set aside “quiet-use areas” on public lands, where only non-motorized use would be permitted.

One approach, gaining popularity in areas of heavy recreation use by different types of users, is to allow only one kind of use in an area at a time — for instance, hiking, during certain days, and mountain biking, on other days. Sobal says California has such designations, and Jefferson County has also used such a policy.

Quiet Use does not advocate for a total ban on motorized recreation on public lands and waters. Instead, it supports reasonable limits on motorized activities to protect wildlife habitat and to preserve natural areas for the quiet enjoyment of all.

In 2013, QUC modified its mission to focus less on promoting quiet-use activities and more on protecting/preserving/creating quiet-use areas. QUC recognizes that all forms of human use and recreation can potentially result in adverse impacts on wildlife and natural resources, and thus supports responsible recreation. Some QUC work benefits the inherent value of natural areas.  Sometimes the best form of quiet-use involves no use, he said.

As a strong environmental advocacy organization, says Sobal, it does not merely celebrate or promote nature, it actively works to protect and preserve it.  He says QUC will take, and is not afraid to take, strong stances and positions on environmental topics. These are sometimes controversial. QUC has used objections, appeals and lawsuits when necessary to emphasize its positions and obtain needed clarifications on issues.

Sobal said QUC tries to cite the best available science to support its positions and incorporates peer-reviewed and published data, studies and literature.  It gathers numerous sources of scientific information to prioritize proposals, actions and its work.

QUC believes positive planning decisions must be implemented appropriately for maximum benefit. Its goal is to influence and achieve favorable conditions on the ground and in the field. Thus, QUC organizes volunteer projects to implement the positive aspects of decisions on the ground.

As a recent example, in 2018, QUC contributed more than 1,000 hours of volunteer labor, and $2,000 of supplies, toward public land fieldwork. This work occurred in over 40 different locations within four counties, three USFS Ranger Districts and on BLM land. It focused on restoring the wild and primitive character of the land while preserving quiet-use areas.

This work helped protect and preserve over 20,000 acres of quiet-use areas and habitats for wildlife and plants that are threatened, Sobel said. The work helped preserve eight designated quiet-use trails, a national monument, a wilderness area, seven different USFS roadless areas, an area of critical environmental concern and a non-motorized management prescription area. Three areas with outstanding or very high biodiversity significance were preserved,” Sobal stated.

Over the years, added Sobal, QUC has worked in more than 250 locations to protect and preserve over 100,000 acres of land. Some of those locations include:

  • Three designated wilderness areas and one wilderness study area
  • Numerous locations in Browns Canyon National Monument
  • Sixteen USFS roadless areas
  • Twelve areas with outstanding or very high biodiversity significance in Chaffee County
  • Over 30 designated quiet-use trails, including  locations along the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Sobal points out that if you have hiked, biked or participated in a quiet-use recreational activity like enjoying wildlife or enjoying natural quiet in Central Colorado, you have likely directly, or indirectly, benefited from the work of the Quiet Use Coalition.

In September alone, notes Sobal, their project list included three wilderness trails at 10,900 feet and another project preserving wilderness and a roadless area at 11,000 feet. The Monday, Sept. 23 project involves three quiet-use designated trails in aspen groves.

“Quiet Use has a vision,” said Sobal,  ” in which people work together to protect the dwindling supply of wildlands, waters, open space and the plants and animals within these environments, to pass them on for quiet multiple uses to future generations.”

For more information on the Quiet Use Coalition, including a list of winter recreation quiet-use trails in Chaffee and Lake County, you can visit www.quietuse.org.