Sunday, September 15, 2019

Planning Commission considers new private trail

“When we invested in Wildcat we knew about the Green Lake Trail, not this”

By Adam Broderick

If you hiked or biked the Green Lake Trail this summer you may have noticed a new unmarked trail heading off to the right, not long after you returned to single track from Wildcat Trail, the dirt road. If you followed that unmarked trail a hundred feet or so to the west, you may have found yourself on yet another new trail. And if you rode that trail on a mountain bike, you probably had a great time.

At least, that was the consensus at an October 16 Gunnison County Planning Commission public hearing. Anyone at the meeting who had been on the trail agreed it was very well made.

However, some don’t care how nice the trail is; they say it does not belong. In fact, there was a complaint from the Trapper’s Homeowner’s Association regarding the trail, so the Planning Commission requested the property owner who built the trail apply for the proper land use permit.

According to Russ Forrest, director of community development in Gunnison County, a [minor impact project] application needs approval before more than 7,500 square feet of site disturbance occurs. There were more than 12,000 square feet of site disturbance in this case.

Chris Baggott, owner of Lot 33A, Trapper’s Crossing at Wildcat, had the trail built for himself and his guests during the fall of 2014. Some of his neighbors, as well as some county officials, contend that just because the Green Lake Trail goes through the neighborhood does not mean residents can start building other trails there, and that just because Baggott calls his trail “private” doesn’t mean the public isn’t using it. Some also contend it encourages trespassing through neighboring property to access the “private trail.”

When does a private trail become a public trail? That seems to be the question. The Gunnison County Planning Commission is currently reviewing the appropriateness of the trail and considering public input on the matter.

Baggott hired Spectrum Trail Design—which has built more than 100 miles of trails in the Midwest and helped develop Indiana into more of a mountain biking destination—to build the trail on his property.

Spectrum consulted the Gunnison County Trails Commission and followed their recommendations, as well as guidelines from the International Mountain Biking Association, and invited county officials to inspect the trail. Community members who have discovered Baggott’s trail while riding Green Lake Trail have reported the trail impressive.

Forrest says the Planning Commission has chatted with the Trails Commission and Baggott’s trail seems to be very well designed. He also says he can understand the concern for the trail attracting trespassing on nearby private property and that if the applicant wants a private trail, the applicant needs be very clear that it is a private trail. The town of Crested Butte and other property owners at Wildcat agree.

The mile-long loop trail is entirely on Lot 33A; however, the connecting trail to Green Lake Trail, which is not on the lot, is the concern. Planning Commissioners who inspected the trail say that during a site visit they noticed the connecting trail looked like someone tried covering it up with old brush to hide it.

Baggott and his attorney, Dylan Carson, say the connector trail was only built so Baggott’s private guests would have a hint as to where to go.

According to Carson, the first 20 feet of the connector trail were built off of the main trail in order to allow Baggott and his friends and family to not have to come down to Wildcat Trail from his property, then take Green Lake Trail before finding Baggott’s trail.

Attorney David Leisendorf spoke on behalf of his clients who live in the neighborhood. “Immediate neighbors to this property are clients of mine. My clients contend that this trail, which was constructed without coming to the county for the proper land use permit, encourages bushwhacking.”

“I’ve talked to people that have said they’ve been on my trail. I didn’t really care,” said Baggott. “Having people ride it once in a while is healthy for the trail, within good reason. It’s a fun little loop. It’s a ton of work to get to.”

But if Baggott is applying for a private trail on his property, some commissioners and neighbors think he should care that the trail sees public use—especially if his so-called private trail is encouraging people to trespass on neighboring property to access it.

Leisendorf added that the local mountain biking community has an element of entitlement. “They go on Strava and talk about the trail, so you have to consider this as a public trail,” he said.

Tim Kugler, a resident of the valley for almost ten years, says he has been on the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association board for six of those years, and from a user standpoint, he thinks Green Lake Trail is so technical that Baggott’s trail is not going to open the floodgates into the neighborhood.

“Green Lake Trail is one of my favorite trails and the user numbers just are not there,” Kugler told the Planning Commission.

Rudy Rozman owns the lot west of Baggott’s and expressed his disagreement with Kugler. He said Baggott’s trail is causing people to create other pirate trails, even downing trees to do so, through his property and on town wetlands to get through to the so-called private trail.

“With respect to Trapper’s Crossing, what is the best example of the community? It’s the protective covenants to protect the subdivision,” said Marcus Lock, attorney for the Trapper’s HOA. “I’m a mountain biker, and the trail violates the protective covenants.”

“We can’t just hide behind the word private if it’s being used by the public. Get signs up so people aren’t using it as public,” added planning commissioner Molly Mugglestone.

Some neighbors as well as Angela Reeves, ex-owner of Toad Property Management, contend that signs don’t work well enough. Reeves told the room that if the Trapper’s HOA tried to prosecute a trespasser who went onto Lot 33A but Baggott told police he didn’t want to prosecute, the police would back off and there would be no trespassing charge.

“I want to say that signage does not work. There has to be some method that’s not signage to make that message obvious to the public,” Reeves said.

“When people invested in property at Wildcat they knew about the Green Lake Trail, but not plans for any private trails,” said neighbor Lynn McDermand. “People have frequently asked me about the ‘new trail up Wildcat’ … I’ve also noticed motorcycles and seen hikers wandering in and out of that trail. As far as signing goes, signs don’t work.”

Since the trail was built privately and the public had not had the opportunity to give input until the October 16 meeting, Mugglestone wants to allow time for input. “I just wish that it had been done the way it could have been done so we could have made decisions based off of both sides having equal representation,” Mugglestone said.

Carson told the Planning Commission that he and Baggott would be happy to work with the town to install signs so that law-abiding hikers and bikers know the trail is private.

Carson added that since much of the valley has seen a rise in trespassing, he and Baggott don’t think the trail encourages more trespassing.

If the trail is approved, Baggott would be required to treat his trail as private; signage would likely need to go up and prohibitions against trespassing enforced. If not approved, the “improvement,” as Forrest calls it, may have to be decommissioned and re-vegetated to its natural state.

To give the public time to comment and allow the Planning Commission more time to consider the application, the public comment period will remain open and the discussion postponed until the next Planning Commission meeting on Friday, December 4.

Public comments can be submitted to planning@gunnisoncounty.org.

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