System would add miles of single track to County
A packed audience urged Gunnison County commissioners to lend their support for a proposal to increase the amount of non-motorized trails in the county. At a joint work session on March 25, trails proponents and federal and state public land officials met to discuss the possibility of a significant expansion of single track in Gunnison County.
Gunnison trails director Dave Wiens and Gunnison County Trails Commission chairperson Joellen Fonken asked the commissioners to support the proposal to include the trails in the current Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, Gunnison National Forest (GMUG) Travel Plan process.
The proposal calls for more trails beyond the popular Signal Peak area behind Western State College, a trail linking Crested Butte to Gunnison and a single track loop above the Palisades bluff area northeast of Gunnison.
Fonken said her board studied whether the trails proposal fit the intent of the Gunnison County Trails Commission, which is to protect and promote trails for alternative transportation and recreation. “We really took a look at that,” Fonken said, “And we decided that it did.”
Kenny McDaniel, field manager for the Gunnison Bureau of Land Management, said the proposed trail section above the Palisades—the McIntosh/West Antelope system—contained important wildlife values, and public land managers were reluctant to increase recreation in the area. “It is an area of environmental concern for big game habitat,” he said.
McDaniel also noted that the section of the system would require a new bridge across the Gunnison River in order to be accessed.
Gunnison National Forest district ranger Jim Dawson said the entire system was not the Forest Service’s top choice at this time. “The bad news is there is a large portion of this trail system that is not in the preferred alternative,” Dawson said.
Dawson said the river crossing could be a sticking point. “One of the things (that would have to be considered) would be the cost/benefit of that bridge,” he said.
However, Dawson said the entire system was included in the maximum recreation choice in the travel plan process. “The bottom line is, Dave’s proposal is included as an alternative,” he said.
J Wenum, area manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said the land needed for the bridge was already designated as a mitigation area for riparian and angling opportunities that were lost with the creation of the Blue Mesa Reservoir, and he thought building a bridge may conflict with the land’s assigned use.
Wiens argued that non-motorized trails create minimal impacts on the environment and provide important quality-of-life and economic value for the county’s citizens. “That’s an important thing,” he said.
Wenum said one issue his agency was concerned with was the increase in density of trails if all user groups demanded their own trails. “If you build it, they will come,” he said.
But Wiens said his group has worked to decommission unsustainable trails, and he claimed that there were so many rogue roads and trails in the county that federal agencies could decrease total trail and road mileage even if they permit his proposal. “You could build out this entire trail system and trail density could go down,” he said.
Commissioner Jim Starr said the proposal could be an opportunity to protect wildlife by decommissioning rogue trails, while at the same time enhancing the recreational opportunities for the public by providing a few really good trails. “That would seem to me to be a big huge plus to this community,” Starr said.
County Commission chairman Hap Channell said he was compelled by the positive economic impacts the system would create for the local communities. “It’s a reality that I think we should take advantage of,” he said.
The commissioners agreed to ask the Gunnison County Trails Commission to draft a statement in support of the trail system, to be considered at a regular commissioner meeting while the comment period for the GMUG Travel Plan is open.