Private land owner protesting increase in grazing fees
A segment of Farris Creek Road that accesses Strand Hill will be closed to the public this summer if an elusive agreement between Cold Springs Ranch and the U.S. Forest Service isn’t reached. It would be the first time in recent memory that the primary access to the trail is closed for an entire season.
The road crosses a section of the Cold Springs Ranch before it reaches public land inside the Gunnison National Forest boundary. Gunnison district ranger Jim Dawson says there is nothing he can do about the closure.
The owner “has every right to deny access to that land. It’s his,” Dawson says.
A sign first went up at the gate to the property last September, informing people that the trail access would be closed on November 1. The hand-written sign told people to direct questions about the closure to Jim Dawson, district ranger of the Gunnison National Forest, who attributed the problem to frustrated Cold Springs Ranch owner Michele Veltri, who has had “publicly owned land fenced in on his ranch for some time.”
Veltri says he doesn’t want to deny access to his property, but without the leverage of closing the popular stretch of trail he is afraid his requests for lower land use fees will be ignored.
“We don’t want to close [Farris Creek Road], but, if it’s necessary, we will close it to put pressure on the Forest Service” says Veltri. “It is in the public interest to keep Strand Hill open and that can be done by working with Cold Springs Ranch.”
Cold Springs Ranch borders public land and for years there has been a disagreement about where one property ends and the other starts, according to Veltri. But the ranch has paid grazing fees for cattle that wander onto the disputed property and last year, he says, those fees went up significantly.
“The fee schedule went up and that is the reason we are having difficulty with the trail access,” says Dawson. “The increase might pose an undue hardship on Michele and his family. We don’t have a lot of choice as far as the fee goes.”
Veltri says he hopes that the ranch and the Forest Service can “negotiate a land swap or a land use fee that is reasonable and not ruinous to us.”
Kay Peterson, vice president of the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association, says although the mountain biking community might be losing the primary access to Strand Hill, it isn’t theirs to keep open.
“It’s pretty much up to [Veltri] and the Forest Service. They’ve got to work out what they have to work out,” Peterson says. “If we’re needed to help mediate or can make the situation better, we will. But it’s about the cost of grazing and we can’t do anything about that.”
Peterson says people can still access Strand Hill from Brush Creek Road by taking the Canal Trail to the Strand Bonus Trail, which connects to the Strand Hill system of trails outside the private property boundary.
“Strand Hill has a bit of a steep uphill climb but once you get on the trail itself you’re descending the whole time through aspen groves and wildflower meadows, with great views of Teocalli,” says Peterson. “It’s just a great ride.”
But an alternate route up Strand Hill isn’t an option for the organizers of the Crested Butte Bank Xterra Triathlon, who had to cancel the seventh year of the race because the controversial road up Strand Hill was part of the biking and running route in the triathlon.
“When we plan the triathlon, there’s a lot of permits that have to be in place and permissions we have to take care of. We had to have that all settled the year before and with the uncertainty about the trail, we had to make a decision and we decided not to have the race this year,” says race co-director Tina Kempin.
Kempin says about 70 percent of the mountain biking portion of the race is spent on Strand Hill and for each event venue amenities like parking and electricity have to be available, so moving any portion of the race can be difficult.
“Every year the event has been held, all of the 175 spaces are filled. It’s a great event for the community and people love coming here to compete,” she says. “We are just grateful to the Veltris for allowing the race to go on for so many years.”
Veltri says the road will be open as soon as Cold Springs Ranch is able to reach an agreement with the Forest Service.