Summit County Open Space program celebrates prolific year
The COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread hardships on everyone this year, but as community members physically distanced from family and friends and took breaks from visiting their favorite shops and restaurants, the value of Summit County’s open spaces and trails became more apparent than ever.
As residents and visitors took to the outdoors in search of safe ways to recreate, the Summit County Open Space & Trails Department made considerable strides in helping to expand and protect the area’s natural resources this year.
“Our Open Space & Trails Program is instrumental in maintaining Summit County’s rural mountain character, protecting its unique natural areas, and supporting high-quality outdoor experiences for residents and visitors,” said Brian Lorch, Open Space & Trails director, in a release. “Our community values these resources immensely, and over the last two-and-a-half decades, we’ve made tangible progress every year to ensure their protection.”
This year the department saw the start of construction on a new 3.3-mile long extension of the Summit County recpath through the Tenmile Canyon in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Forest Service, part of a broader vision to create a regional path connecting trail systems in Summit and Lake counties to be completed next year. As a whole, the recpath saw over 50% more visitors this year, according to the department.
“Following more than a decade of planning, we couldn’t be more excited to see construction of this critically important recpath segment,” Lorch added. “The new segment will bypass a dangerous section of the Tenmile Canyon and better link the paved networks of Summit, Lake, Chaffee, Eagle and Pitkin counties and beyond.”
The county also completed a 2,500 foot hiking-only trail leading towards the top of Mineral Hill in French Gulch this year, meant to improve opportunities for hikers to avoid bike traffic, along with the modernization of bridge crossings on the Willow Creek trail outside of Silverthorne that replaced older log crossings in the area.
Summit County also acquired 125 acres of open space in 2020 through eight separate land transactions totaling $2.4 million, according to Resource Specialist Christine Zenel.
Additionally, the Open Space & Trails Department expanded forest health operations on the county’s properties this year. The county completed hazardous fuels reductions projects near the Peak 7 and Wellington neighborhoods in partnership with Breckenridge and the Colorado State Forest Service to better protect the community from wildfires. Similar efforts were also recently completed on the Mesa Cortina Open Space in Wildernest, funded through the county’s Strong Future Fund and matching donations from Denver Water’s Forests to Faucets grant program.
In partnership with The Nature Conservancy of Colorado, the department planted 1,200 aspen seedlings and installed snow fencing within a 2.5-acre enclosure at the Barney Ford Open Space near Breckenridge as well.
“This is a first-of-its-kind experiment to examine how aspen regeneration, and soil and vegetation moisture retention, can help to create natural fire breaks and mitigate wildfire risk,” said Resource Specialist Jordan Mead in the release. “We are excited to follow this project over time and learn more about innovative methods to reduce wildfire risk in our community.”
Additionally, the county continued its mine reclamation efforts in 2020, most notably on the Swan River Restoration Project, which saw the first full year opening the recently-restored Reach A section to the public.
The department is also looking towards the future. This year the Open Space & Trails Department began new planning efforts in cooperation with the Breckenridge, Blue River, Colorado Springs Utilities and the Forest Service to manage high visitation levels at the Quandary, Blue Lakes and McCullough Gulch recreation areas. The department also completed a comprehensive analysis of recreational use within the Dillon Reservoir Recreation Area and recpath system to provide a better understanding of user experience at the amenities moving forward.
“We’re so grateful for the support of the Summit County community continues to show the Open Space & Trails Program,” Lorch said. “Without the support of our citizens, volunteers and elected officials, many of our program’s accomplishments would not be possible.”
For more information, visit the Open Space & Trails Department page on the Summit County website at SummitCountyCO.Gov/openspace.
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