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Slate River working group being convened to deal with management

Recreation, ranching and wildlife issues

by Mark Reaman

With increased use in and around the Slate River, the need for more enhanced area management is the catalyst for a new organization, the Slate River Working Group, that would ultimately generate a management plan for the river between the Gunsight Bridge and Skyland.

The Crested Butte Town Council approved a $5,000 donation last week to help fund the group and pay for a professional facilitator. The Crested Butte Land Trust is a partner in the convening of the group and it has committed $2,000. The land trust and town have worked together to preserve more than 1,000 acres of open space in the upper Slate River valley. Generally, the land trust owns the land and the town holds the conservation easements.

At the February 20 Town Council meeting, Crested Butte Open Space coordinator Hilary Henry and Crested Butte Land Trust stewardship director Hedda Peterson outlined the potential composition and purpose of a working group.

“There is a strong need to convene several stakeholders to address the issue,” said Peterson.

With the growing popularity of stand-up paddleboards (SUPs), growth of recreational use in the river has been huge. That has created conflict within the community as the impacts on things like the wildlife (especially the blue heron rookery), access to recreation opportunities, commercial use of the river, and agricultural operations in the area have become evident.

“As a conservation easement holder, the town of Crested Butte has an obligation to ensure that the easements’ terms are upheld and the conservation values of the open space properties are not degraded,” Henry wrote in a memo to the council.

The land trust has started to reach out to key stakeholders to participate in the working group and according to Henry and Peterson, has so far “received positive feedback about the potential for a working group.” The idea is to find common-ground management solutions. Stakeholders that would be involved include the federal agencies, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the town, the county, Skyland and the Crested Butte Land Trust, local ranching representatives, private landowners with Slate River frontage, commercial river users, and the High Country Conservation Advocates.

The idea is to hold between five and seven meetings starting in April and concluding this fall. A final report would be released in the winter of 2018 with the implementation of solutions starting in the summer of 2019.

Data will be collected this summer with the help of Western State Colorado University and the Coal Creek Coalition. The focus will be on overall numbers and studying the blue heron rookery.

“It seems like this is an appropriate step to take right now with the changes on the river that are increasing with things like stand-up paddleboards,” noted Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt.

“I like the idea of getting people in the same room and trying to figure it out,” added councilman Chris Haver.

With the $7,000 start-up funding from the town and land trust, the hope is to obtain another $6,000 grant from the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.

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