Not everyone aboard with plans for Redstone-McClure trail in Pitkin County
PITKIN COUNTY — As Pitkin County Open Space and Trails moves closer to approval for the development of a seven-mile trail from Redstone to McClure Pass, some Crystal Valley residents are crying foul over wildlife impacts and potential for further development.
On Friday, the White River National Forest issued a final environmental assessment and draft decision regarding Pitkin County’s plan to construct and maintain a trail from Redstone to McClure Pass.
The seven-mile trail would be a natural surface, non-motorized, multi-use recreation trail from Redstone to the summit of McClure Pass constructed within the State Highway 133 right-of-way and along the Rock Creek Wagon and Old McClure Pass roads.
The Forest Service’s draft decision applies to about five miles of proposed trail that goes through the White River National Forest. The other two miles run along Highway 133.
“(The proposed trail area) is already being used by members of the public and mostly by folks who probably live in the Crystal Valley already,” said Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Kevin Warner. “We’re proposing in the draft decision to have a winter closure …. That is the most important time for elk in that particular location. And that would actually be achieving something different than what we have now.”
Findings from the environmental assessment, along with input from Colorado Parks & Wildlife and a Forest Service wildlife biologist, informed the Forest Service’s decision to close the proposed trail from Dec. 1 to April 30 to protect elk herds in the area.
From June 2018 to July 2021, Bear Creek cameras captured an average of 1,274 passes by people per year and 536 by dogs per year. According to the environmental assessment, 37% of visits to the Bear Creek area occur from December to April.
The assessment also allows for the closure date to extend to June 30, if wildlife behavior necessitates an extension.
Also studied in the environmental assessment is the welfare of the Canada lynx, monarch butterfly, western bumble bee, hoary bat and peregrine falcon. The assessment found the proposed trail would not significantly impact the fauna or habitat fragmentation.
Still, some Crystal Valley residents said trail construction would be a disaster for local wildlife, especially if this trail leads to the full construction of an 83-mile bike trail from Carbondale to Crested Butte.
The the plan was adopted by Pitkin County in 2018, but its full construction is not approved by the county commissioners
Delia Malone is an ecologist and vice chair of Roaring Fork Audubon, among other conservation-related positions. She is a resident of Redstone.
“This is what trail development does. It converts a previously wildlife dominated landscape to a human dominated landscape and essentially disturbs that landscape,” she said. “We are contributing to the loss of biological diversity. We’re contributing to the crash of biodiversity upon which we all depend for our life services that ecosystems provide.”
Malone said that proponents of the proposed trail that allege a NIMBY position on trail critics is a red herring, and that the trail construction can and should happen in places that would minimize habitat fragmentation.
“The Forest Service is just a manager, and they’re supposed to manage our public lands for all users,” she said. “That includes wildlife, and they’re supposed to manage for sustainability in perpetuity.”
Fellow Redstone resident Bill Argeros shared Malone’s trepidation.
“This trail being developed is going to bring a whole lot of people through very sensitive areas of our wilderness,” he said.
Gary Tennenbaum, the director of Open Space and Trails, said that the county is treating this proposed trail as a singular project and that it is not yet part of the larger puzzle that is the Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail.
“(The Board of County Commissioners) felt this one already had community support. They felt this one already has an existing trail for part of it. This would connect communities and subdivisions along Highway 33 and connect it all the way to the top of the McClure Pass,” Tennenbaum said. “So they are looking at this as kind of a standalone trail, and they will determine in the future if they want to do anything else.”
Gunnison County has already approved a trail to the McClure Pass summit on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre And Gunnison National Forests side, Tennenbaum said. If the White River National Forest side is approved, it would provide greater trail connectivity in the region.
The publication of the final environmental assesment and draft decision triggered a 45-day objection period for the Forest Service to collect community input, particularly those with standing who submitted comments. There were two public comment periods earlier in the process.
“It’s really to engage with the people that have been engaged and have been working towards the solution throughout the process,” Warner said. “The objection process is to take a look at the draft decision, and tell us what you think should be different.”
Once the objection period is over, the White River National Forest will hand the data and objections to resource specialists and technical experts within the National Forest Service, but outside of the forest. Those experts will determine if any objections have merit within the NEPA process before a final decision is issued.
Open Space will go back to the county commissioners to determine a budget for the trail construction if the Forest Service issues a final decision approving the construction of the trail. Tennenbaum said it would most likely be included in the 2024 budget.
Forest Service and Pitkin County Open Space & Trails staff are hosting an informational public open house meeting in Carbondale on Feb. 15 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Third Street Center, 520 S. 3rd St., about the draft decision and objection period.
This story is from AspenTimes.com.
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