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An open letter to our community and the Pitkin County BOCC Regarding the Crystal River to Crested Butte Bike Trail

Sections: Letters, Opinion Published

IMPORTANT NOTICE:  YOUR COMMENTS ON THE BIKE TRAIL MUST BE SENT TO THE BOCC BY THIS FRIDAY, JULY 27TH, 2018.  Please write or email your Commissioners at:

Temporary Address:

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Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners
123 Emma Road
Suite 106
Basalt, CO 81621

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Email (patti.clapper@pitkincounty.com)
Phone: 970-379-3702

Email (rachel.richards@pitkincounty.com)
Phone: 970-710-1038

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Email (greg.poschman@pitkincounty.com)
Phone: 970-309-7997 

Email (steve.child@pitkincounty.com)
Phone: 970-927-3008

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Email (george.newman@pitkincounty.com)
Phone: 970-618-9972

Please state your name and address and let them know if you are a resident or landowner in the Crystal River Valley.

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Overview and call to action

Pitkin County in the Crystal River Valley now finds itself at a crossroads as never before. The looming question is whether or not our Community and the BOCC desire to fundamentally change the character of the Crystal River Valley. What will be the legacy we leave behind to our children, our heirs, and our community? Will we develop and commercialize our beautiful valley, or will we keep our valley as pristine as possible? For those of you who haven’t had the time to attend the Caucus meetings or research the issues in depth, this is your time to both take heed and be heard.

Growth in our valley is, of course, inevitable. This subject and many others were contemplated at length by the Caucus members over a yearlong process that resulted in a comprehensive Crystal River Valley Master Plan which was then adopted by the County in 2016. The master plan overwhelmingly supported keeping the natural areas of our valley intact and to only propose growth that is sustainable and which maintains the health of the river, riparian areas, wildlife, and human culture. The mandates of the Master Plan contemplate growth, but did not contemplate, nor does the Plan support, the massive changes that are now being proposed in our valley. This unsustainable development has become the number one priority for the Crystal River Caucus and the community it represents.  This is the American political process at its grassroots best.

Status of the Bike Trail – Plan A?  Plan B? or No Trail Option

In summary, the proposed Crystal River to Crested Butte bike trail is well underway and the only choices to our residents are whether to allow the bike trail to essentially follow the existing Highway 133 roadway through our narrow valley (Plan A) or to build through sensitive wildlife habitat with multiple bridges that cross the Crystal back and forth to the Highway (Plan B).  In addition, many residents are extremely concerned over the private land implications and the possibility of governmental takings. Further, many residents are now questioning the morality of spending of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars for recreation when there are so many other priorities and are opposing the trail all together.

The trail discussion is not new to our valley.  Several years ago when the prospect of an off-the-road bike trail was raised, the community voted strongly against it.  Now that the trail issue has resurfaced, it has caused many in our peaceful valley to rise up against it again. Recently, the Crystal River Valley Caucus invited some local and well respected experts to opine on the impact to the valley of Plan A  compared to Plan B. Wildlife experts, stream ecologists and engineers all are of the opinion that Plan B, the option that develops the trail through sensitive wildlife habitat, will contribute to the decline of wildlife, harm the stream and ultimately destroy the rural character of the Crystal Valley. Plan B  is inherently incompatible with our community’s Master Plan.

Yes, there have been past violations against the landscape, but thankfully our Valley has regained much of its pristine natural character. It has become a wonderful place to live and thus far has escaped the intense development that characterizes the highway corridor from Aspen all the way to Glenwood Springs.  

The choice for Valley’s residents is stark, do we want to maintain the peaceful, pristine nature our valley, or do we sit back and give in to the unbridled development of a playground.

Mandates of the Crystal Valley Master Plan

Our Crystal River Valley Master Plan provides clear guidance with regard to proposed development in the Crystal River Valley. Given that the Crystal River Valley Master Plan is a community based Master Plan, developed jointly by Pitkin County and the residents and Caucus of the Crystal River Valley we feel strongly  that the Plan should be used by staff and decision-makers to guide future development, and inform land use decisions.

The Plan provides clear direction on the values that we hold dear and will fight to maintain: “Our Valley is first and foremost a place where preservation of the natural environment and the protection of our rural character are valued. As the rest of our state becomes increasingly urbanized, the Crystal River Valley is a place where the rural character should remain substantially unchanged”. The Caucus feels that this bike trail will begin the downward spiral that will substantially and irrevocably erode the rural character of our valley, leading to the urbanization that we’ve sought to prevent and which has come to characterize much of Pitkin County.

Consistently the Caucus has voted to support the development of a Pedestrian and Bicycle Path as part of the West Elk Loop path within the existing highway right- of-way – an alignment that will maintain the integrity of the wildlands, wildlife, stream health and rural community that we value and which our Master Plan clearly seeks to preserve: “A bicycle and pedestrian trail as part of the West Elk Loop should be developed. Trails should be designed to protect human safety and utility while minimizing impact upon wildlife, habitat, and stream health and integrity”.

An ongoing and consistent theme throughout the Master Plan is that “Public lands within the Crystal River Valley should be managed to protect and preserve the natural environment.” While the Caucus supports the development of the trail we do so only with the overarching stipulations that: “The trail should be designed for user safety, wildlife and habitat protection and consider best science, other available information and input from landowners along proposed routes”.

Best available science regarding wildlife

Best available science regarding wildlife, in our opinion, comes from those professionals who have worked with the wildlife in our valley for decades, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’ biologists and wildlife managers. Consistently and for decades these professionals have warned against developing a trail through wildlife habitat but have supported an alignment that remains in the highway corridor (attachments from Kevin Wright and John Seidel are provided).  One of our most iconic native species, elk, are experiencing population declines throughout our valley – recreational incursions into previously secure habitat has been implicated as one of the major causes of these declines. These CPW professionals advise that to conserve what remains of our native wildlife we must keep the trail out of what remains of our valley’s natural areas.

Our Master Plan is also adamant that: “Future development must…Preserve, protect and improve water resources and riparian and wetland habitat.” Analysis and assessment from stream ecologists and biologists are also very clear in recommendations of keeping the trail in the highway corridor to prevent further degradation of stream and riparian habitat. Additionally, because the proposed alignment will preclude stream and riparian restoration in some of those areas that could most benefit stream and riparian recovery, they strongly recommend keeping the trail development in the existing disturbance envelope of the highway corridor.

PRIVATE PROPERTY ISSUES

The Plan B option for the trail will, by necessity, impact private landowners in the valley.  Some will be impacted only by the sheer number of people crossing their land. Others will either need to give or sell an easement to the county.  For those who don’t want a trail through their property under any circumstances, the county may have to use the power of Eminent Domain. This “condemnation”, also known as a “takings”, is inconceivable to most and will certainly end up in expensive and protracted legal battles.  This would undoubtedly and substantially raise the cost of the Plan B option. It would also not bode well with the affected residents or the general constituency. This would involve the use of your taxpayer dollars and most certainly be a great expense and hardship on the property owners. There are also valid concerns regarding the issues of trespass, police protection, and landowner liability.  The Caucus opposes any use of governmental powers to acquire the land through adverse possession.  Plan A would virtually eliminate these issues.

CAUCUS CONCLUSIONS & RESOLUTION

Each of these factors – wildlife, wildlands, healthy, unmanaged streams,- contributes to the current rural character of the Crystal River Valley; character that our Master Plan seeks to protect and preserve. Our Caucus feels that the proposed trail development will undermine and ultimately destroy that character, inexorably leading to the urbanization of one of the last best places in Colorado. The Caucus supports a trail alignment that is restricted to the highway corridor and opposes the current draft trail plan alignment.

– The Crystal Valley Caucus Board

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