Four different trail closure dates confuse riders on midvalley Crown | AspenTimes.com

Four different trail closure dates confuse riders on midvalley Crown

Confusion over conflicting trail closures that contributed to some mountain bikers poaching a section of Rio Grande Trail last weekend was resolved Tuesday after a mountain bike association intervened.

Upper elevation trails on the Crown opened for the season April 16. Trailheads off of Prince Creek Road are popular with mountain bikers.

At least two distinctive single-track trails can lead mountain bikers, as well as hikers and equestrians, over high ground, then drop them down the northern side of the Crown into the Roaring Fork Valley floor.

There, riders found last weekend that a section of the Rio Grande Trail remained closed.

"They can go up and over and it gets them caught in a closure," said Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association.

One Basalt rider said he and a friend found themselves in just that situation Saturday. They departed from Prince Creek Road and found the trails to be in excellent condition — exceptionally dry for this time of year. After descending the Buckhorn Trail they intersected the Rio Grande Trail just east of a locked gate. They rode east toward Basalt but encountered another locked gate at Rock Bottom Ranch. They climbed the gate and passed their bikes over it.

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The Basalt cyclist said he was unaware of the closure on Rio Grande Trail and saw no signs on the Crown warning that they were headed toward a closure.

The Crown is land overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The Rio Grande Trail in that stretch of the valley is managed by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.

Pritchard said he discussed the situation with the Rio Grande Trail manager Tuesday. He explained that riders were legally descending Buckhorn only to find the Rio Grande closed. The trail manager from RFTA opened the gate at Rock Bottom Ranch to address the dilemma. Two other gates, one at the intersection with Buckhorn and the other at Catherine Bridge, remain closed until 5 p.m. April 30.

While that issue was resolved, officials agreed that better signage and possibly more closure gates on the Crown itself are needed next spring.

"We are aware there's some confusion about (different closure dates)," said BLM spokesman David Boyd. "That is something we're working on with the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association."

Here's the confusion in a nutshell:

Some lower-elevation trails on The Crown accessed from Prince Creek Road are open year-round. A single-track trail that parallels the road on the northern side as well as Christmas Tree, Monte Carlo and Ginormous are open. They lead to a trail called South Porcupine on an old irrigation ditch. South Porcupine is the uppermost open trail open year-round.

Upper elevation trails on the Crown are closed from Dec. 1 through April 15. The closure is to protect deer, elk and other wildlife, which depend on the Crown for critical winter range.

The paved Rio Grande Trail from Rock Bottom Ranch to Catherine Bridge is closed from Dec. 1 until 5 p.m. on April 30. The closure was put in place as a compromise for wildlife when the trail was constructed. The trail provides ingress/egress to the Crown from the north side.

The Glassier Trail, completed by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails last summer, is closed Dec. 1 through May 15. The closure period is consistent with several other open space properties, including Sky Mountain Park.

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails set its closure date after consultations with Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials.

"Clear signage is key and that does not exist on all trails, but does exist on Glassier and the Rock Bottom section of the Rio Grande Trail," said Gary Tennenbaum, executive director of the open space program. He said riders have a responsibility to know the status of trails where they are riding, even if there are different closure dates.

"It is very clear on both of those if you are poaching as you have to go over fences or over or under closure ropes," Tennenbaum said of Glassier and Rio Grande Trail.

Some wildlife advocates have called for broader closures and enforcement on trails on the Crown because it plays such an important role for deer and elk. Wildlife habitat maps for the Roaring Fork Valley show the Crown is winter range for deer and elk and includes some severe mule deer winter range. It doesn't have summer range or calving production areas for elk. The entire valley is mule deer summer range.

Boyd said the closure date from Dec. 1 through April 15 was determined through a resource management plan for the Colorado River Valley Field Office.

"We worked with Parks and Wildlife to make those dates consistent across the field office," he said. The closure through April 15 on the upper trails is designed to reduce disturbance on winter range.

The lower elevation trails are left open year-round because of their proximity to Prince Creek Road, which is open year-round, he said.

The warm, dry conditions this spring brought increased pressure from recreational visitors to use the upper trails earlier than April 16, Boyd acknowledged. Some of the poaching may be from ignorance, he said, because some of the trails aren't well marked.

"We'll try to make the closures more obvious with signage," Boyd said. There also may be more gates and more enforcement in future years, he said.

Pritchard said there are three closure gates separating lower trails that are open year-round on the Crown and upper trails closed Dec. 1 through April 15. There may be "leakage" where riders could cross the boundary without realizing it, he said.

Pritchard said he feels most riders honor closures. Nevertheless, more signs may be necessary for spring 2018, especially for riders descending into the Roaring Fork Valley before Rio Grande Trail is open.

"We need good signage," he said. "I think where there's physical barriers, locked gates, that's even better."

scondon@aspentimes.com