Kebler Pass winter trailhead growing pains continue

More property owners building in the area

[ By Katherine Nettles ]

Gunnison County Public Works says this winter went smoothly at the new Kebler Pass winter trailhead, but the time has come for a long-term solution to a growing and busy area of the county. In a March 9 update to county commissioners, the department asked to put some concerns on the agenda that need to be addressed before the next permit season, namely, the issue of parking permits and long-term parking area strategies.

In a letter from Public Works director Marlene Crosby, operations manager Sparky Casebolt and District 3 foreman Rod Black, the department reviewed that for the 2020-2021 winter season, “We issued 55 parking permits, 38 trailer permits and 138 snowmobile permits. When we reached 55 parking permits, [we] declined any further permits knowing we had exceeded capacity by six-eight spaces.”

All agreed that the trailhead has functioned well this year and that the Forest Service Permit holders worked well with the residents of Irwin. While it wasn’t a heavy snow year, the residents were about 90 percent compliant at moving their vehicles for cleanup and plowing when needed.

Black commented, “It’s working out pretty well, it’s just almost at capacity… I don’t know how it’s going to go down in the future.”
Casebolt said the solutions over the last 10 years seem to be temporary, working for a couple years and then getting outgrown. “But it is a lot better for the short-term. And snowmobiles have been much better this year,” he said.

Crosby advised there are large homes going up in that area, which will lead to more congestion issues. “We are already over-capacity and based on access permits we have issued and recent calls we expect seven to nine new homes will be built in Irwin this summer, and there are more buildable lots,” she stated.

“Current building codes … guarantee that these homes will be able to be lived in by the owner or rented during the winter. If next year restrictions are the same as this year that could be 10-14 new permit requests, and no place to park the vehicles. There is no funding available to build another trailhead.”

Furthermore, noted Crosby et al., “There are 67 35-acre parcels and two 80-acre parcels in the Townsite of Floresta. It is not known how many of those parcels are buildable lots.” The county attorney’s office has suggested that permit requests could require documentation of a legally permitted living structure. Crosby suggested they decide on permits and other policy directives by May 15 to give people time to plan.
Commissioner chairperson Jonathan Houck said, “We want to manage expectations and there’s competing interests here.” He spoke specifically of people who view a home or property in July, and imagine they can access it in January.

Crosby said her department sent information to all realtors, that they cannot guarantee access and parking to people who are buying property there.

Commissioner Roland Mason also chimed in. “I would like to work with the Forest Service that any kind of mining claim or land trades that we can get for additional land for parking there as a long-term goal,” he said.

Crosby agreed that a potential trade for a mining claim is the most likely scenario. “But it needs to be moving toward the users managing and paying for their own spots,” she emphasized. She said adding that to the county docket would be difficult.

Houck said he is also working with Senator John Hickenlooper’s office on providing more of those services especially with the interface between public lands, “but until those checks come in, we need our own plan,” he noted.

Crosby said she will bring this issue back in May for commissioners to make a decision, and the attorney’s office will work to give them a couple of options.

“Kebler is the place we see the most need for management, but the decisions we make will influence other areas of the valley… any places where we have this cluster of developable land. These decisions also become a template,” Houck said.

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