Breckenridge walks a fine line in sensitive Cucumber Gulch area
Summit Daily News
Breckenridge staffers and the town Open Space Advisory Commission have begun work on a revitalized management plan for the Cucumber Gulch wetlands, a crucial ecological area and wildlife habitat located northwest of downtown just below Peaks 7 and 8 of the Breckenridge Ski Resort.
The new plan, still in the early draft phases, will update and broaden a recreation master plan produced for the Gulch in 2003 with the key goal of balancing recreational use with conservation efforts.
“Striking a balance between preservation and recreational access is really what we’re looking for,” Breckenridge open space and trails planner Scott Reid said of the vision for the new plan. “Our hope is to have a general policy direction on a range of management issues we face in the Gulch. It gives us clear direction on how to manage the place.”
A 14-page pre-draft of the plan presented to the Breckenridge Open Space Advisory Commission earlier this week called for policies that would protect sensitive natural areas, allow for limited public access to the Gulch and monitor the wetland’s resource values. Members of the commission were asked to rank the importance of various elements of the plan, such as allowing special events and forest health approaches, to give staffers direction for developing a more complete draft of the plan.
The 77-acre wetland complex is a source of purified water for Cucumber Creek that provides a temporary and seasonal habitat for over 100 wildlife species, including beaver, moose, bear, mule deer and migratory birds. In 1995 and 1997, breeding populations of the endangered boreal toad were also discovered in the Gulch.
More recently, research has revealed water quality issues in the area related to salt levels. Though the variances are not alarming, the importance of water in the wetlands necessitates that the issue be monitored, Reid said.
“The water source is the lifeblood of the wetland complex,” he said.
Ultimately, the new plan will have to tackle a number of issues and complications never considered in the 2003 document, including damage resulting from the mountain pine beetle epidemic.
“We know a lot more,” Reid said. “We’ve had a lot of research done in the intervening years and we know more about how things work out there.”
Development in and around the Gulch has also changed the game. Since the 2003 document was created, the Breck Connect Gondola has been constructed through the wetlands, and significant development has taken place at the bases of Peak 7 and Peak 8, all of which require a broadened focus in the new document, Reid said.
Staffers will use the open space commission’s feedback to write out a more formal draft which then be considered both by the commission and the town council in a process likely take several months.
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