County looks at way to manage Slate River Trailhead

No overnight parking rule to start next year

In the near future, the Slate River drainage could look a lot like Washington Gulch, at least through the eyes of recreational users. Right now, Slate River Road is free of recreational restrictions at the gateway to the Gunnison National Forest. Nordic skiers, snowmobilers and backcountry enthusiasts all mingle and at times, apparently, live a bit dangerously.




At a work session on Tuesday, March 23, the Board of County Commissioners heard from homeowners who overlook the winter trailhead. They also heard from recreational users who have all seen the use change over the years.
And now that use is coming into conflict with the arrangement the Crested Butte Land Trust made with Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) to purchase the Kikel property at the trailhead.
“We purchased the Kikel parcel and part of the funding for that was through GOCO, which does not allow motorized use on the parcel. What concerns us more is that in the last year or two there have been more snowmobiles parked at the trailhead,” Land Trust president Keith Bauer told the commissioners. “So it’s a technical issue with our funding source. If they’re on the county right of way, it’s okay. And if they get onto our property, it’s a conflict with GOCO requirements.”
Homeowners from the Nicholson Lake subdivision also attended the meeting and agreed with Bauer that the use of snowmobiles in the drainage is increasing every year. The result is more interaction with skiers on the trail and congestion at the trailhead.
Nicholson Lake homeowner Elizabeth Smith said she is concerned with snowmobile parking and the trouble it can cause in getting into the subdivision. “I’m concerned. Last year there were two snowmobiles there, now there are consistently nine… Some of these guys are riding their snowmobiles literally to the top of Purple Mountain when there are skiers coming down.”
County Director of Public Works Marlene Crosby pointed out that the Slate River winter trailhead is one of the more orderly trailheads in the north end of the Gunnison Valley, despite the homeowners’ descriptions of it on a busy day with 30 or 40 cars and trucks with trailers.
But homeowner Melissa Cunningham pointed out that the congestion would make it difficult for emergency vehicles to get into the subdivision if they needed to.
Crested Butte Nordic Council president Bryan Wickenhauser attended the meeting to say, “The vision from the Nordic Center is that we’d like to help establish Mike’s Mile, which would take our guest skiers from our preexisting trails to the Slate. We’d certainly like to groom the Slate in future winters. We’ve done it early season and in the future we’d love to establish more groomed trails for our members, and that lends itself to a natural extension.”
Local resident Maureen Hall pointed out two blind corners on the Slate River Road and said she has been scared more than once by snowmobiles while skiing. She recommended there be two paths established down the Slate—one for snowmobiles and one for skiers, similar to the way Washington Gulch is managed.
“It’s just an accident waiting to happen,” Hall said.
So with some talk about starting a working group with representatives from different recreational user groups, the county and Forest Service, the commissioners recommended instituting a “no overnight parking” rule at the trailhead and urged the Land Trust to find signs letting people know when they’ve crossed onto private property.
“I think the users do need to get together and start preliminary discussion about what winter travel in the upper valley will look like in the next few years,” Bauer said.
Crosby said it would likely be next summer before signs could be installed in the parking area.

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