Many of us are excited about the upcoming plans to extend the Crystal Valley trail from the KOA campground to the top of McClure Pass. Impetus for this project has come from Governor Hickenlooper’s inclusion of this project in his recent trails program “16 in 2016”, a $100,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), and very strong local support.
This trail extension is desirable because (a.) getting bike/ped users off CO133 and onto a trail would allow their safe passage, (b.) use of this trail will increase the health of and provide beauty and enjoyment for our citizens, (c.) completion of the trail will lead to considerable economic benefits to Redstone and Carbondale, and (d.) many studies have shown that a residential property with reasonable access to a trail will have significant added value.
What trail alignment will lead to the best result for our citizens and be the most cost-effective? This trail extension will be coordinated by the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Program (OSTP), who very successfully achieved completion of the 5.3 miles of trail from Carbondale to the KOA campground. That project involved good science, citizen meetings, and consideration of alternative routes to achieve the best final result. I understand that OSTP is now undertaking the wildlife and engineering studies needed to evaluate options for the long-awaited completion of the Crystal Valley Trail.
To obtain a trail that has the greatest appeal, I think that staying away from moving motorized traffic is highly desirable. I believe that a route along the east side of the Crystal River, at times along the old rail bed, would create the most aesthetic route and also be the most cost effective. Alternatively, if the trail were in the right-of-way for CO 133 there are several narrow locations where the trail would be extremely expensive to build, would crowd aquatic habitat, and generally would place foot or bicycle travelers uncomfortably close to the highway due to noise, exhaust fumes and physical nearness to traffic.
Would an east side trail greatly disturb species that are sensitive to human activity? A seven-year wildlife monitoring of wild birds and mammals along the Rio Grande Trail, using visual sightings and camera traps, suggests well-researched answers to this question. A particularly sensitive area of the Rio Grande trail is at Rock Bottom Ranch. The conclusions of the Rio Grande Trail study are “For the most part, it appears that current management strategies are exceeding expectations on minimizing the effects of recreation on the monitored wildlife community” and because winter scarcity of food stresses animal populations “The winter trail closure is the most significant management and effective measure in balancing the recreational and wildlife protection goals for the Rio Grande Trail” (see www.rfta.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/2013_rgt_wildlife_monitoring_report.pdf).
This important, regional study suggests that careful placement of the Crystal Valley trail mostly on the east side of the Crystal River will allow persons exceptional walking and bicycling through a largely natural setting and not greatly disturb sensitive birds and mammals there. Particular care would be needed at the Crystal River section from Avalanche Creek into Filoha Meadows. The impacts of a simple bike trail would be very small compared to the impacts delivered by the approximately 100 homes and driveways already on the east side of the Crystal (Seven Oaks, Crystal River Country Estates, and a group of houses north of Redstone). Moreover, a simple bike trail would have a minor effect on animal welfare compared to that of traffic on highway CO133, which leads to the deaths of many animals per year, and also compared to additional animal deaths resulting from hunting. No reasonable person would propose removing homes, CO 133, or hunting in order to improve environments for animals. On the other hand, reasonable persons will give a go ahead signal to extension of the Crystal River Trail along the best possible route. The welfare of feathered and furry friends as well as of humans should be considered together.
The policy of the OSTP is to rely on the best available science, including thorough census data on birds and mammals, to look at site specific wildlife impacts and their mitigation, and to plan fine engineering for a new trail. The OSTP has an exemplary track record, as shown by Pitkin County voters who, by a 70-30 margin, recently reauthorized open space property tax for another 20 years. Let’s throw our support behind the quality approach that OSTP will give us to find the best continuation of the Crystal Valley trail, one that will be a credit to our valley and be of great benefit for the health and welfare of our citizenry.