Summit County moves forward on drafting a new open space and trails master plan
County leaders reviewed the results from two surveys, one of which reported that respondents don’t feel trails are overcrowded
Summit County’s largest draw and biggest asset is its scenic beauty and plethora of outdoor activities. Community members and leaders take this seriously and so do Summit County government officials, who are currently in the midst of drafting a new master plan for the open space and trails department.
The next step in the process happened Tuesday, Jan. 25, during a Summit Board of County Commissioners work session meeting, where Kristina Kachur and Jeremy Call, of Logan Simpson Design, presented the findings from a couple of surveys. They also outlined the overall vision for the plan.
Of the two surveys discussed, the first was a summer visitor questionnaire posted at various Summit County-operated trailheads that asked recreationists about their experience. The second was a visioning survey that asked community members and visitors what they wanted to see out of Summit County’s open space and trail system.
In total, the summer visitor questionnaire, which was posted at about 33 trailheads, racked up 274 responses. The visioning survey accumulated about 1,000 responses. A winter visitor questionnaire is posted on the project’s website, which will help the team further hone its vision.
The summer questionnaire found that most visitors were hiking, mountain biking or walking their dogs, and most drove to trailheads. Most of the respondents were either first-time visitors or locals.
One interesting finding from the questionnaire was that most respondents said they didn’t think trails were crowded. This was a surprise to a couple of the county commissioners who said they have received extensive feedback from community members that this isn’t the case.
“I guess I just find this really surprising. … I’m happy to provide copies of those emails and outreach from folks who just say it is so crowded,” Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said.
Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue also raised concerns that this data point wasn’t matching what community members often express to her.
“It’s certainly not reflective of what I hear from my constituents regularly, so I think some looking into the cross tabs on this one might be instructive,” Pogue said.
Katherine King, the county’s new open space and trails director, said this is a common occurrence land managers find. She said community members might vocalize their concern about crowding at trails, but when a formal study is conducted, the data doesn’t always add up.
Summit County Resource Specialist Christine Zenel said there’s also a difference in how people perceive trails and trailheads, and that this distinction was evident when investigating the Quandary Peak trailhead.
“When we did our original Quandary survey, we actually found that visitors found the trailhead experience to be overwhelmingly crowded (and) that people were still having a great time on the trail itself,” Zenel said. “So I think it’s important to distinguish between that trail experience and the actual trailhead parking lot experience, which is often where the pinch point is.”
The visioning summary showed that respondents valued recreational opportunities, conservation of natural habitats and protection from urban development the most. According to the presentation, most respondents want a management focus that would balance natural resource protection and outdoor recreation.
With this in mind, Call presented the vision that will likely be the department’s focus. That is to conserve open space resources and ecosystem values, connect trail-based amenities, and collaborate for quality visitor and community services.
Under each of these, Call outlined focus areas and steps the department could take, such as to restore mined lands and rivers, develop and maintain the recpath, and add more signage to trailheads.
The commissioners were generally supportive of all of these, but they also voiced support for ensuring there is equitable access to the county’s open space. Pogue asked the team to think of different demographics when drafting action items, including those at lower income levels, part-time and full-time residents, and the county’s Latino population.
Moving forward, the team will continue its public outreach, which includes hosting a virtual open house about the master plan at 5 p.m. Feb. 10. The team will continue to assemble this data before adopting the final master plan in early summer.
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