CB sharply objects to draft Forest Service decision on Doctor Park trail

Not seeing the logic in the decisions

By Mark Reaman

The town of Crested Butte this week voted to formally and strongly file an objection to the Draft Record of Decision (DROD) for the North Valley Trails Plan by the local Forest Service. Making clear that the town feels the decision signed by Gunnison National Forest district ranger Dayle Funka was made with “subjective disregard to important aspects of the plan in direct conflict with the EA (Environmental Assessment) by the Gunnison District Ranger in the Draft Record of Decision, particularly regarding Doctor Park,” the town asks that the district reevaluate its decision to exclude the proposed Doctor Park improvements.

The North Valley Trails Plan is a comprehensive plan to address issues with trails in the North Valley. Originally proposed by the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA) and vetted heavily for several years with a variety of local stakeholders, the plan was meant to get bikers off the roads and make trail improvements where needed. It was endorsed through the Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation (STOR) committee of which the Gunnison Ranger District is a participant. 

CBMBA had proposed that the part of the Doctor Park trail that goes through the wetland at the beginning of the singletrack be moved 2/10 of a mile to put it on higher ground and protect the wetland and riparian habitat the existing trail often traverses. The Forest Service said “no.” 

In the DROD, Funka said the proposed reroute would “negatively impact big game species…there would be a new impact to an area where currently no use or only non-mechanical use has occurred. The timbered area where the new construction was proposed is valuable to elk and big game species as an unimpacted refugia. Considering the multiple uses of the existing trail system and potential impact to elk reproduction and big game species, I am not authorizing trail decommissioning or trail construction.”

CBMBA executive director Dave Ochs said the organization was glad there is some forward thinking to see some trails improved in the North Valley but disappointed with some of the decisions in the draft decision document.

“We, at CBMBA, are grateful for the time and efforts that the Gunnison Ranger District has put into the NVTP DROD. We feel there are significant improvements and favorable decisions to the trail network in regard to trail user safety, sustainability, connectivity, and positive resource impacts,” Ochs wrote in an email this week. “We do, however, disagree with several of the findings, specifically in regard to the decisions around ‘poor matches for the need of the proposal’, and findings of no ‘apparent safety driver.’ Along with the Doctor Park decision that we don’t feel has significant rationale, we were regretful to see the Upper Cement Creek to Crystal Trail proposal be denied with growing impacts, higher uses and future travel planning at stake. Working with wildlife advocates, we proposed the trail away from the creek side, and parallel to a road that is doing the fragmenting of habitat already. Let alone, the safety and experience of being off the road. In addition, Upper Cement Creek clearly matched two of the stated ‘purpose and needs’ in the EA: connectivity and trail diversity.”

Like the town, CBMBA found the decision to not improve the Doctor Park Trail somewhat baffling. 

“As the Town noted in its objection letter, we too find the rationale behind the Doctor Park decision to be short sighted,” Ochs continued. “In collaboration with STOR partners, specifically wildlife advocates, we proposed the Doctor Park re-route and decommissioning in line with positive wildlife standards and impacts, and for better protection of the resource itself. Comments from the public and within STOR show broad support for the proposed need, and the rationale does seem to fall short.”  

In a memo to the council about filing the objection, CB Recreation, Open Space and Trails supervisor Joey Carpenter said that the Forest Service “has repeatedly pared down the proposal and applied logic that directly conflicts with their formally documented EA in making the final approvals for the North Valley Trails plan. The applied logic flows directly against the EA, the vast majority of comments submitted by the public, the formal endorsement from STOR and the Town’s repeated requests for the Agency to make a logical shift.”

While the Crested Butte objection focuses on Doctor Park, Carpenter’s memo makes clear the issue can “unfortunately be found throughout the DROD when compared to the EA.”

The town’s objection states that “if there is anywhere to implement reasonable changes to improve user experience, reduce maintenance costs, and align with Agency logic throughout the EA, it is in the Doctor Park corridor. The town of Crested Butte strongly urges the Gunnison Ranger District to reevaluate the exclusion of Doctor Park in the project based on the analysis performed by the agency and the strong community support around this section of the proposal.”

The council approved sending the objection letter to the Forest Service at the December 18 meeting as part of the consent agenda so did not have further public discussion over the matter.

The Forest Service will take eligible objections on the DROD until January 2, 2024. The draft makes clear that given the timing, on-ground implementation of any of the proposed projects would not see a start date until the summer of 2024 at the earliest.

We reached out to Funka via email for her comments on the issue and she referred us to the notice document. “If the Town of CB intends to submit an objection, the Forest Service will respond to objections following the administrative review process,” she explained.

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