CRYSTAL VALLEY TRAIL
There’s a lot to digest in the 271-page draft plan but the main changes needed to make the trail friendlier to wildlife are:
• Ask the County to change the alignments in the draft plan for the Red Wind Point, Bear Creek and McClure Pass segments to Alignment A. This will move the trail out of wildlife habitat that is largely un-fragmented, sees relatively low amounts of human use and/or has no approved trails.
• Encourage the County to choose Alignment A for the Avalanche and Janeway South segments. No alignment was recommended in the draft plan but it’s critical that the final plan keeps the trail out of these large areas of important un-fragmented habit with little current human use.
• It’s also worth thanking the commissioners for including a suite of ecological initiatives in the plan and asking them to maintain the recommended alignments that avoid critical wildlife habitat in Filoha Meadows and Janeway North areas.
The County’s draft plan addresses some (but not all) impacts to wildlife and proposes some ecologically beneficially new initiatives. However, the plan could be substantially better and whether it is or not depends largely on you. County staff have been very clear that the final plan will reflect public comments. The more of us that request changes to minimize future impacts to wildlife habitat, the more likely it is that the final plan will be wildlife friendly.
Summary of the Crystal Valley Trail
Building a multi-use trail up the Crystal River to the top of McClure Pass as part of the larger Carbondale-to-Crested-Butte Trail has been on Pitkin County’s “to do” list for a decade or more.
In 2017, Pitkin County began conducting outreach, as well as environmental and engineering studies. In May of 2018 the County released a draft trail plan that is a good start but needs some improvement to ensure the trail is wildlife friendly. Once Pitkin County decides on a final trail plan, they will submit all or part of it to the Forest Service for review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Designed for pedestrian, bicycle, and equestrian use, the trail would extend the existing path from the KOA through Redstone to the top of McClure Pass. Below Redstone the trail would be a Rio Grande style trail either paved or dirt. From Redstone to top of McClure Pass, the trail would be dirt single track and would connect into existing or proposed single-track all the way to Crested Butte.Wilderness Workshop is most focused on the section that begins where the existing trail ends at the KOA campground, five miles upstream from Carbondale, and continues through Redstone to the top of McClure Pass.
We are not categorically opposed to a trail up the Crystal Valley; in fact, we think it is important to expand alternative modes of transportation and provide recreational opportunities. However, central to our mission is ensuring new trails (or any form of development) on public lands avoid or minimize harm to ecosystems and wildlife. Our work on the trail seeks to ensure that any trail does as little harm to wildlife and the ecosystems of the Crystal Valley as possible.
IMPACTS TO WILDLIFE
To inform our work on this issue, we hired Rick Thompson from Western Ecosystems Inc., to produce a report on the wildlife and habitat that could be impacted by potential trail sections and alignments (if you’re having trouble viewing the Dropbox file, you can read part 1 here and part 2 here). While important, wildlife impacts are only one of many factors that will determine if and where the trail would be built. Expense, engineering, safety, private property, and user experience are all important to consider but they are generally outside our mission and expertise. As a result, Rick’s analysis is limited to the impacts to wildlife (or lack thereof) from different trail alignments. Specifically, his study reviews the numerous past studies of wildlife habitat and trail proposals as well as management plans in the Crystal Valley. The report also includes a review of scientific literature studying the amount and degree of recreational impacts to wildlife to help the public, county, and Forest Service make informed decisions on this project. Rick’s report analyzes the mapped wildlife habitat and how different potential trail alignments would impact that use and effectiveness of that habitat.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where
nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”