Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Locals come out to discuss Peanut Lake Road issues

Public is interested in limiting parking

By Katherine Nettles

More than 30 people came out to share their thoughts on managing Peanut Lake Road and its surrounding trails at a public forum on December 6 hosted by the Crested Butte Land Trust, the town of Crested Butte, the Crested Butte Nordic Center, and Gunnison County.

The Depot was packed with concerned citizens, and although the hosts had planned for a series of three informational stations on different aspects of the area’s management, the crowd elected to keep seated and take turns providing input as one large group.

“It was certainly a good showing for this time of year,” said Hedda Peterson, stewardship director for the Land Trust.

Peterson kicked the discussion off by presenting the project that is being pursued by the four stakeholders. The need to address Peanut Lake at large was identified by the county’s Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation committee (STOR) among areas that need enhanced management. Reasons for the concern are the congested parking seasonally, the lack of public facilities, crowded trails, user conflict, signage and access to WildBird subdivision.

Specific aspects involved in the project are how to manage the county road, winter use, the Lower Loop parking area, and overall trail access. The stakeholders came together this summer and did some site visits and brainstorming, according to Peterson. “We looked at what could be a possibility. And before moving forward with any formal decisions, we wanted to get the community’s input on it,” she said.

Those who attended the meeting came with a variety of input and potential solutions. The three topics of the evening were: planning and vehicular access; trails and trail access; and shared use of Peanut Lake Road.

Among the propositions offered were to improve road and way-finding signage; restrict parking to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) use only; install a gate on Peanut Lake Road; add a separate walking trail alongside the road, and many others.

Some private homeowners talked about the scenic value of the area, and how they would prefer not to see additional parking or traffic there.

Many discussed the concept of Peanut Lake Road as a trail of its own that people use to walk their dogs and babies, despite it also being a county road. Some considered it worthwhile for its diverse landscape, describing it as an icon for the community, and wondering if it could be improved upon by closing it to traffic.

“I’ve long been an advocate for closing roads, and this is no exception,” quipped long-term resident Denis Hall. “Put the cars somewhere else … put them at the Four-way.”

Throughout the evening’s conversations, Hall, among several others, advocated for restricted motor vehicle access.

“We are a hiking community, a biking community, and all we do is talk about cars,” he said.

One resident who lives near First Street and Butte Avenue said he believes that many visitors inherently want to “do what we do … bike around,” He said he sees people who rent homes in the area embrace the use of bikes and really love it.

Elizabeth Philbin of the Adaptive Sports Center pointed out that access for those who are disabled is important so they can use those trails as well. She said for many, the mile stretch of road to access the Lower Loop might be as much as they can do in a day, and if they expend all their energy just getting there they miss out on the additional trail network beyond.

Crested Butte Nordic’s director Christie Hicks also said the parking lot is useful to the Nordic Center because, “That winter trailhead is our biggest.”

“We can encourage locals to ride bikes to the trailhead, but it’s a lot harder to do with visitors,” she said, noting that the Crested Butte Nordic looked into getting fat bikes for that purpose but their insurance company shut them down.

One possible solution that came up was a shuttle service that could bring people to and from the trailheads. This approach could be used in conjunction with restricting road access altogether, or just at busy times, as the Land Trust executive director Noel Durant suggested.

One point of slight contention was the Storybook Trail at the beginning of the Lower Loop, which some felt was important for children and visitors, while others said it was misplaced in that location and should be moved somewhere closer in to town.

The concept of using the Woods Walk as the official trailhead for, or as an alternative to the Lower Loop altogether, also came up. Resident and Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association executive director Dave Ochs offered that the Crested Butte Conservation Corps could help widen the Woods Walk Trail, for example.

Crested Butte town planner Michael Yerman chimed in about parking and traffic issues in general, and encouraged people to come to the Town Council work session on December 17 to discuss it.

Ochs said he had concerns about the discussion involving parking convenience rather than encouraging the community and visitors to leave motorized vehicles behind.

“We need to fix the local paradigm as well,” he said.

Another issue that came up was the connectivity—or lack thereof—between trails. Some people expressed hope that east-side trails and west-side trails be connected someday.

Hicks said, “We would be happy to do seasonal access, maybe as part of the Nordic Pass.”

Requests came in for signs that say “no camping” “no outlet,” “no turnaround for RVs,” additional speed limit signs, and better explanation of what “restricted parking” means.

Marlene Crosby, Gunnison County director of Public Works, said the road’s current signage of 15 miles per hour is not actually enforceable, and the county has left it as a courtesy but if updated it would have to legally be marked at 25 or 30 MPH by county road standards. It was noted that emergency service vehicles also need access to the road.

Durant asked the group to consider what might happen if they did decide to close Peanut Lake Road altogether.

“It is an interesting conundrum because it looks enticing for cars. But would closing Peanut Lake Road lead people out to Slate River Road and parking there?” he asked.

Overall, the forum provided the stakeholder group with plenty of input.

Peterson said it would be hard to distill all the ideas from the meeting down to just one point, because there were many. “I would agree that one general theme was not to expand parking, and to rather promote parking closer to town,” she said. “This was a really important first step in this process.”

Ultimately, the stakeholders will map out some short-term approaches and then draft those to present to the community again, possibly by late winter or early spring.

The short-term solutions the Land Trust is considering include increased signage to say “no outlet,” and encouraging users to share the road. “It might be especially adding signage earlier on, if the intent is to limit [traffic],” she said.

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