Public comment sought on North Valley trail expansion plan

Disappointment expressed with Forest Service revisions to plan

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

Public comment on a proposed North Valley single track trail and trailhead expansion plan is being taken until the end of the month by the U.S. Forest Service. Much of the proposed work is meant to get mountain bike riders off nearby roads. Originally proposed by the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA) and vetted through the county’s STOR (Sustainable Tourism Outdoor Recreation) committee, the Forest Service made some adjustments to the original proposal and is looking for public feedback. Some initial feedback, including from CBMBA, is questioning the Forest Service direction.

The official proposed action consists of eight new trails or trail segments, one trail re-route and three trailhead parking or day use area expansions and enhancements across the northern half of the Gunnison Valley. This action would result in approximately nine miles of trail construction and one mile of decommissioned trail. 

Additionally, 18.7 acres of disturbance are proposed for expansion of existing parking areas and enhancement of the infrastructure at the Brush Creek Trailhead, Tent City Day Use and Designated Camping Area and Walrod Trailhead. Day use area and parking disturbance acreage includes both the existing hardened parking areas and expansion areas.

CBMBA has been working on the idea to get riders off the roads and onto trails on public lands for years and this most recent effort was summarized as an effort to focus on less impactful trail improvements and connections within the existing network. In its working document, CBMBA states that “most of the proposed trails in Riders Off the Road are parallel trails in existing high-use areas that will help disperse riders throughout trail systems, provide better trail and user experiences and create more beginner-level single track. Most proposals are adjacent to existing roads, therefore minimizing impacts to wildlife habitat while maximizing public benefit.”

But the Forest Service did not take all of CBMBA’s suggestions. In its explanation document the USFS states that “each proposed trail was assessed to determine if it met the Purpose and Need and to identify preliminary or known resource concerns. Trails that did not meet the Purpose and Need or that had known resource concerns were either modified or removed from further consideration. Of the CBMBA trails:

Two routes were removed from further considerations due to not meeting the Purpose and Need.

Four routes were modified to minimize or address resource concerns.

Five trails were included as proposed by CBMBA.

Early feedback

In CBMBA’s public comments for the Forest Service proposal it asks that all the original trail work suggestions be included so the public can comment on them. The point was made that CBMBA has worked extensively to meet with other stakeholders with varying interests to find common ground and compromise, but the organization makes clear it feels other stakeholders, such as ranching, take precedence with the Forest Service.

“CBMBA requests a clear and transparent process that incorporates multiple use interests over special use interests. CBMBA believes that the Snodgrass Public Trail and Eccher Gulch deserve a process to hear public comment/input. CBMBA believes the ‘removed from consideration’ trails also deserve public comment,” the organization wrote. “(CBMBA) spent time on the ground with wildlife specialists, have poured over maps with stakeholders, have collaborated and mitigated impacts with research use, and held open houses and public meetings to solicit public input. After four revisions to the CBMBA plan, and two STOR meetings with extensive discussion taking place regarding each trail, CBMBA’s Riders Off the Road plan emerged as a vetted and agreeable plan that was endorsed by the STOR Committee… CBMBA is concerned that some of the trail modifications and removals in the proposed NVTP (North Valley Trails Project) are unwarranted and without proper justification, and represent the demands of special use interests instead of multiple use interests.”

As of early this week 18 people or organizations had commented on the proposal. Most were short letters in general support of the idea. Aside from CBMBA, the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory also questioned the Forest Service version of the proposal that ended up disturbing a couple of long-standing RMBL research sites.

“Given the extensive planning and stakeholder engagement involved in developing these proposals, which led to CBMBA altering locations to minimize impacts, we were surprised to see the USFS release a proposal that substantially deviates from that public feedback in ways that are not transparent. Additionally, given that we have provided the locations of these research sites to the USFS, we were surprised by the realignment,” RMBL executive director Ian Billick wrote. 

Amy Nolan, executive director of the Crested Butte Development Team also questioned some of the revisions. “We support all of CBMBA’s efforts to bring forth a recreation experience that is safe, responsible, and sustainable. While the eight trails that are included in this plan are incredible, I am left to wonder what happened to the other trails that were originally in this plan?  … it is unclear to us how the USFS weighs the interests of the ranching community and opportunities for enhanced recreational land use. Historically, the balance of USFS rulings in our district have appeared to favor ranching interests over recreational enhancement. It would be beneficial to all community members, and much appreciated, if the USFS would help us understand how these competing interests have been weighed and considered.”

The town of Crested Butte weighed in with a similar take. “We hope to see adjustments made to ensure the dedication and work of scoping the plan by (CBMBA) through comprehensive community engagement efforts over the past 8+ years is reasonably considered,” the town wrote. “As the Forest Service continues to make difficult decisions regarding recreational improvements, we encourage them to value the community processes, like STOR, that have been implemented valley wide.”

On the other hand, the Gunnison Wildlife Association said it appreciated the modified proposal. “We greatly appreciate that the Purpose and Need, as developed by the Gunnison Ranger District’s interdisciplinary team, establishes the foundation and rationale for the proposed action. We value the decision to modify or remove from further consideration trails that did not meet the Purpose and Need or that had known resource concerns. And, more specifically, we appreciate that the objective of the project is focused in large part on connecting existing trails; realigning non-sustainable routes in order to prevent further resource damage; and designating proper trail access points and infrastructure — as opposed to creating new routes in areas where recreation is less concentrated, thus resulting in greater habitat loss and fragmentation,” president Cody Dyce wrote. “Furthermore, while we certainly support the need for adequate toilet facilities, we worry that the development of new trailhead infrastructure and designation of additional parking space will have the unintended effect of attracting even more trail users than at present. This would result in a need for additional expansion in the future, thus creating a cycle of continuous incremental development of trails and associated infrastructure. All of this results in continued encroachment of human recreational impacts upon wildlife and their habitat.”

To learn more about the North Valley Trails Project visit: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/f8db14b11ecd41cf88bf628fbfac49ed.

For project specific information and how to comment please visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=61177.

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