By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Nearly 60 people showed up at Carbondale Town Hall on May 17 to talk about plans for parking and other proposed improvements to an increasingly popular mountain biking, equestrian and hiking trails system along Prince Creek Road south of town.
In addition, more than 80 people submitted written comments to the Pitkin County Open Space & Trails Department’s website, mostly thanking the county for dealing with the situation but also offering numerous suggested changes based on their individual experiences and understanding of the issues involved.
The website comments are anonymous, and can be found at www.pitkinostprojects.com, by clicking on the Prince Creek Trail and Parking Planning Phase link in the middle of the page, then on the “public comments” button below the introductory text.
At the meeting in Carbondale, some of those present felt that while it was admirable that the county is addressing the issues related to increased congestion among bikers in the area, but also indicated they are not sure the county’s efforts will be beneficial.
The county has proposed a parking area in what is known as the Bull Pen open space parcel, a little more than a mile and a half up Prince Creek Road from Highway 133 and a short distance up the road from the Flying Dog Ranch. In addition, the county proposes to build a new trail parallel to the road between the parking lot area and the entry to the trails system, another mile and a half up Prince Creek Road, to separate bicyclists from cars on the road.
“I don’t think it’s going to get the bikers off the road” in a way that enhances safety for bikers and motorists alike, said Gary Barr, whose wife, Norma, heads up the homeowners’ association of the Mountain Meadows neighborhood.
He maintained that, as proposed, the location of the parking lot will still send bikes onto the road to get to the trails, “and that’s a blind curve.”
Another area resident, Doug Farris, indicated support for the county’s efforts, noting, “There’s more and more people up there … and that’s a public area, a public road. People have the right to go up there.”
Rancher Tom Turnbull, while not actively opposed to the county planning effort, said there are other issues that need to be addressed, as well.
“At this point, I think our major concern is the vehicular traffic on Prince Creek Highway,” Turnbull said somewhat jokingly.
He expressed reservations about improvements meant to accommodate the bicyclists, calling them “unnecessary,” and turned the talk instead to his feeling that the BLM needs to focus more on maintaining what Turnbull referred to as the “multiple uses” management philosophy — encouraging cattle grazing, mineral development and energy production, as well as outdoor recreation.
“I’m a multiple-use man,” he said, “but the recreation (planning) is closing in on making it single use,” squeezing out cattle grazing, equestrians and motorized sports.
“I think all of this has been brought to the forefront by the number of people here,” referring to the growing population of recreationalists in the Roaring Fork Valley coupled with the valley’s increasing popularity as a mecca for mountain biking, horseback riding and other forms of recreation for people living in other parts of the state.
But, he added, he’s not sure how to fix that particular problem.
Another attendee at the Carbondale meeting, land-use planning consultant and occasional fill-in town manager Davis Farrar, is a principal in the Red Hill Council that manages another hiking and biking area to the north of Carbondale.
Supportive of Pitkin County’s plans for the Prince Creek Road trails, Farrar said the Red Hill Council was approached about taking on management of the Prince Creek trails along with those on Red Hill, but the idea went nowhere.
“We have our hands full” with Red Hill, he said, adding that he feels a similar group should be formed to watch over the Prince Creek trails.
“They need to have more management structure for Prince Creek,” Farrar said. He said he realized some are resistant to the planning idea, but asked rhetorically, “If you don’t deal with this, what, they’re going to go away, stop using the trails? NOT! You have to meet the demand somehow.”
Miles Gurtier, a representative of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which owns the land under the trails, said he worked for the BLM in Moab, Utah for a decade as that area became a magnet for mountain bikers from throughout the country and user numbers multiplied exponentially.
“I don’t want to see this area turn into anything like Moab,” said Gurtier, explaining that he hopes it does not become a destination for riders from around the state and region.
“This is really for the people who live here,” he declared.
Gurtier’s conceptual approach essentially was the same as one expressed in an email from Prince Creek Road resident Sloan Shoemaker to his neighbors, which endorsed the sorts of improvements proposed by the county but suggested the county also needs to be thinking about limits.
Shoemaker’s note maintained that improving the trails and parking might be beneficial, but that it also will generate more traffic, more demand for camping (illegal or otherwise), more trash and dog waste, and “demand for more trails, either formally developed … or illegal bandit trails, both of which will further impact wildlife and further disrupt grazing allotments.”
Noting that he is a regular mountain biker himself, Shoemaker concluded, “I don’t think it’s too much to ask Pitkin OST and BLM to be good neighbors by limiting, mitigating or eliminating the impacts to our neighborhood, ranchers and public lands.”
The public comment period concerning the county’s planning effort closed on May 24, and a draft management plan is due out in June, at which time there should be another opportunity for public comment, according to the county.