Cucumber Gulch gains ‘preserve’ designation | SummitDaily.com

Cucumber Gulch gains ‘preserve’ designation

BOB BERWYNsummit daily news

Summit Daily/Bob Berwyn

BRECKENRIDGE – Moving to raise public awareness of the environmental values at stake in the preservation of its pristine alpine wetlands, the town of Breckenridge recently designated Cucumber Gulch a wildlife preserve. “By labeling the area a ‘preserve’ and managing it accordingly, we hope to send the message that we take the protection of this area very seriously,” said Breckenridge Open Space Advisory Commission chairperson Matt Stais. Along with the designation, the town will also step up enforcement of a dog ban in Cucumber Gulch.The town council was initially split and struggled with the idea of an outright ban on dogs, said Breckenridge spokesperson Kim DiLallo. When the protective management ordinance for Cucumber Gulch was passed several years ago, the town included a variance to allow leashed dogs on some trails in the area.That variance was an experiment, said town manager Tim Gagen, explaining that there hasn’t been good compliance in the past few years. As a result, the town recently lifted the variance, resulting in the outright dog ban. More signage will be added and community service officers will work the area more actively to help educate residents and visitors and to enforce the ban if necessary. Gagen said that violators will initially be warned but ultimately could face tickets.

“There are a lot of other places to take dogs,” DiLallo said. “We’re really asking people to comply with this. It’s an education process. We’re asking people to understand the need to protect this area.””It’s such a struggle,” said Therese Dayton, of the Breckenridge Nordic Center. “It’s such a dog-oriented town,” she said, explaining that the area’s sports enthusiasts enjoy taking their four-legged friends along for outdoor adventures.Dayton said one reason there likely hasn’t been good compliance with the leash requirements is a lack of adequate signage. “If you don’t have signs, how can you just jump to this next level?” she said, adding that she understands that protection of the area’s natural resources is paramount to the town, which invested millions of dollars to buy the land.Dayton said there are still several great trails in the area that are open to dogs, and visitors to the Nordic center can get directions before they head out to make sure they’re not taking their pets into the restricted area.

What’s in the wetlands?Cucumber Gulch includes 77 acres of high quality wetlands that were designated as an “Aquatic Resource of National Importance” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during a heated, late-1990s regulatory battle over development on adjacent private lands. The wetlands, including an extensive network of beaver ponds, have also been identified as prime habitat and a potential reintroduction site for rare boreal toads, state-listed as a threatened species. A survey team found two toads in the area during extensive surveys last summer. One of the toads was later found dead, possibly as a result of a dog bite. Ground-nesting birds are also threatened by off-leash dogs, wildlife researchers said.Under the new designation, more monitoring and research in the area will also be emphasized. Along with the boreal toad surveys last summer, biologists also tracked moose in the area and identified important habitat for up to 47 species of birds.Cucumber Gulch has been described by some council members as a “hotbed of important indicator species,” DiLallo said, describing a variety of plants and animals living there that give clues as to the overall ecosystem health of the wider region.

Why ‘preserve’ it?The Cucumber Gulch Preserve has been one of the main areas of focus for the town of Breckenridge since the birth of the Open Space program. In a press release, the parcel was described as one of the “town’s most treasured yet threatened resources.” Due to its location between town and the base of the Breckenridge Ski Resort Peak 8 area, the gulch is almost completely surrounded by existing or pending development.Other management efforts to protect the areas include enhancing the trail network so visitors can use well-designed, dry trails to explore the area; improving interpretive activities (signs and summertime guided nature hikes); installing fences to protect vulnerable fen wetlands and working cooperatively with the Breckenridge Nordic Center to ensure wintertime wetland protection efforts.Town officials say they are open to input on management of the area. Send comments to heidea@townofbreckenridge.com.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13627, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.