Dispute between landowner and Forest Service has users caught in the crossfire
Mountain bikers, hikers and off-road vehicle users accessing Strand Hill, a popular trail that connects with Brush Creek Road, were caught in the crossfire on Sunday, September 14 when a sign went up at the trailhead announcing that access would be denied permanently after November 1.
The short, steep uphill section at the start of the trail, which is owned by the Cold Creek Ranch and has been open to National Forest users, was posted for future closure because of a disagreement between the Veltri family, which owns the land, and the Forest Service.
“Our lawyer advised us to” close the access, says Michele Veltri, who runs the ranch that has been in his family since the 1930s. “In no way did we want to rain on the public’s parade, no way.”
The hand-written sign advises people to direct questions about the closure to Jim Dawson, district ranger of the Gunnison National Forest.
Dawson attributes the problem to a frustrated Michele, who has had “publicly owned land fenced-in on his ranch for some time.”
In the past, the land dispute has been handled through an agreement that allowed the fence to stay in place as long as Veltri paid a grazing fee for the cows that had access to the property.
“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 the trail access will be closed indefinitely as of November 1.
The Strand Hill Trail is several miles long and connects the Brush Creek drainage to Double Top and Cement Creek with trails that run throughout the hills on the east.
With the access closed, people intent on using the Strand Hill Trail have to take the Canal Trail to the Strand Bonus Trail, says Kay Peterson, vice president of the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association.
“People always knew it was Michele’s property because of a sign that was there. It was part of the deal. But I don’t ever remember it being closed off this way. The access always had the walk-over there so the gate could stay closed,” says Peterson, adding that mountain bikers, for the most part, had always been respectful of the private property.
She says the Strand Hill Trail is usually one of the first trails to open in the spring, getting as many as 50 or 100 riders every day early in the year.
If the issues between Veltri and the Forest Service are not resolved, however, early-season mountain bikers might have to look elsewhere to ride next spring.
“He has every right to deny access to that land, it’s his. I’m just not sure he‘s going to get the outcome from it that he is hoping for,” says Dawson.