Carbondale's community connector

Trail debate shifts to Redstone / McClure leg

Locations: News Published

Seven miles up and seven miles back. What an invigorating outdoor adventure! Plus, look at the breathtaking views.

However, not everyone at the recent White River National Forest open house to present the proposed Redstone to McClure Pass trail agreed a non-motorized trail should be completed.

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Five miles of the project is on Forest Service land, with the other two miles overseen by the Colorado Department of Transportation on the Highway 133 right of way. The plan includes the historic Rock Creek Wagon and Old McClure Pass roads. The trail would rise from 6,181 in Carbondale to the top of McClure Pass at 8,770 ft.

Lindsey Utter, planning and outreach manager of the White River National Forest, said this gathering was only the first in a series to encourage public input and to gauge the community’s reactions, both pro and con.

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Carbondale resident Jason White commented, “I am excited to expand more non-motorized recreation options for hikers and bikers.”

But Delia Malone, who lives near Redstone, and serves as Wildlife Chair for the Colorado Chapter of Sierra Club, said, “As an ecologist, I am opposed to encroaching on and possibly destroying wildlife habitat.”

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The Colorado Sierra Club website explained, “Public lands are our natural heritage, connecting us to the natural world, to our lands’ history and to recreational opportunities. We feel passionate that these lands should be kept pristine for future generations to inherit.”

According to Holly McClain of Missouri Heights, “It’s up to us to preserve and protect pocket wildlife areas from human intervention.”

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She cautioned, referring to possible increased trail congestion, “If you build it, they will come.”

Roger Poirier, public affairs officer who also oversees the ski resorts in the 2.3 million acre forest, said “Later in the process and after the 30-day comment period, we will get specific suggestions from the public.”

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He noted that public comments will assist the Forest Service to determine the scope of the analysis to be conducted and the range of alternative courses of action to be considered within the analysis.

Several attendees were concerned that by splitting the trail review into segments, the entire project will not be viewed as a whole.

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Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, which is proposing the trail, received the okay from the county commissioners in December 2018 after a lengthy review process. This project is part of the overall hope to connect with a trail system in Gunnison County between the pass and Crested Butte. The entire Carbondale to Crested Butte plan would run 83 miles if completed.

The Pitkin County department oversees about 20,000 acres of conserved land, and about 84 miles of trails.

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The Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association supports the natural surface, multi-use recreation trail and advocates for a singletrack option.

Input from Mike Pritchard, the association’s executive director, described the organization’s strong support of the project. “ We have been in favor of the Crystal Valley trail, and we’re grateful that Pitkin County Open Space and Lands is supporting this effort.”

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Pritchard continued, “We welcome these bike path experiences. This will be a soft surface, single track trail that will go all the way to the top of McClure using an old road, and will bring health and economic benefits to the Crystal Valley. People will travel, stay and dine here.”

And he marveled at the vistas seen at the pass’ summit,” This is our beautiful, spectacular Colorado.”

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The White River National Forest will complete an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the project. The analysis will disclose the anticipated social and environmental effects of issuing a Special Use Authorization to Pitkin County to construct and maintain the trail on National Forest System lands.

Also working to maintain pristine nature of public lands and waterways is the Roaring Fork Watershed Biodiversity and Connectivity Study led by Tom Cardamome, executive director and founder of the Aspen Center for Environmental Study (ACES). The evaluation carefully maps landscape areas and their critical connections.

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This way, the group stated, high value habitats can be quickly identified and prioritized for protection and restoration, casting a net of conservation over the natural biodiversity on a landscape scale.