“It’s been over ten years in the making.”
By Kristy Acuff
On June 20, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved portions of Gunnison Trails’ proposal to build new non-motorized single-track trails in the Signal Peak area adjacent to Gunnison and Western State Colorado University.
The 13,000-acre Signal Peak area has been in the sites of local trail advocates since at least 2006 as a prime location for an expanded trail system because of its proximity to town and the university campus. It has been at times controversial, especially with some hunters and wildlife advocates, and while the original proposal asked for 28 miles of new single track trail, the BLM authorized 16 miles of new trail and an expansion of use on some existing trails.
The BLM did not authorize part of Gunnison Trails’ original plan that proposed two trails connecting the Signal Peak system with Lost Canyon Road, due to wildlife habitat concerns.
In addition, the BLM denied construction of a permanent trail on the game trail known as North Woods trail that was also part of the original proposal from Gunnison Trails.
After a 30-day waiting period, during which opponents may appeal the BLM’s decision, Gunnison Trails hopes to begin construction on roughly 16 miles of new trails now approved for development. In addition to the new single track, the BLM also approved mountain bike use for 7.6 miles of existing trails previously open only to horse and foot traffic, as well as a re-route of the Chicken Scratch trail.
“We are very excited about the approval,” says Gunnison Trails director Tim Kugler. “It’s been over ten years in the making and a ton of people who have spent a ton of time on this finally made it happen.”
Kugler credits the local ranching community as well as the city of Gunnison and Gunnison County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Western State Colorado University for supporting the project.
To protect the wintering habitat of elk and mule deer, the BLM will close roads and trails in the area to mechanized use when sufficient snow accumulates to impede mechanized travel or January 1, whichever comes first. The closure will last until at least April 30 and could be extended based on the presence of wintering animals.
The area also includes sage grouse habitat and as a result, all trails west of Signal Peak will be closed to all uses (foot, horse and mechanized traffic) from March 15 to May 15 each year during breeding, or lek, season. Previously, the area west of Signal Peak was closed before 10 a.m. during the breeding season but this new decision will affect all times of day.
“The sage grouse population in that area was declining with the previous closure, and so we needed a more aggressive closure to protect that population during breeding season,” said Gunnison BLM associate field manager Stewart Schnieder. “The other closure for wintering game reflects what Colorado Parks and Wildlife is already doing in nearby areas during antler shed season to protect elk and deer populations.”
“Signal Peak is important to a lot of people for a lot of different reasons—wildlife, recreation, hunting—and so there were some challenges to come up with this plan,” says Kugler. “In the end, this plan represents a compromise among users and we will do our best to educate people about trail closures and explain why the trails have to be closed to protect wildlife.”