Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail debate mellower on far side of McClure Pass

A mountain biker rides the Raggeds Trail between the summit of McClure Pass and Erickson Springs campground. The stretch is envisioned as part of the proposed Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail.
Pitkin County Open Space and Trails/courtesy photo

While a bitter debate is underway over the Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail section in the Crystal River Valley, planning for a route on the other side of McClure Pass is inching ahead mostly with a shrug.

There has not been a lot of opposition to a trail from the summit of McClure Pass to Crested Butte, but there hasn’t been overwhelming support, either, according to officials connected to the effort.

“There’s not that much knowledge or enthusiasm over here,” Dave Ochs, executive director of the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association, said recently.

The proposed route has the allure of getting riders off the Kebler Pass Road, a dusty and heavily traveled route, Ochs said. But the buzz kill is riding an existing section called The Raggeds Trail “backward” from Erickson Springs Campground to the McClure Pass summit. That would require a Herculean effort because of the steep slope.

“I’d say everybody over here is looking for more trails. They’re looking to explore.” Crested Butte Mayor Jim “Deli” Schmidt

On the other hand, the existing 18-mile route from McClure Pass to Erickson Springs on the Raggeds Trails is a challenging, exhilarating and extremely scenic route mostly on single-track trail.

As a point-to-point ride, Ochs doesn’t see much demand for a trail between the McClure Pass summit and Crested Butte.

“It’s a little bit of a trail to nowhere,” Ochs said. “There’s just not a ton of love for it.”

But as an adventure trail, possibly camping out one night on Kebler Pass, it would be “awesome,” he said.

Crested Butte Mayor Jim “Deli” Schmidt, attended a Pitkin County commissioners’ meeting in Carbondale on Nov. 7 to voice support for the Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail. He spoke after hearing numerous supporters and critics of the trail provide comments on the proposed Crystal Valley section of the route. Critics contend the route will be too disruptive to wildlife, particularly deer, elk and big horn sheep.

The U.S. Forest Service held an open house Oct. 30 in Crested Butte on the McClure Pass to Crested Butte trail and no opposition materialized regarding effects on wildlife, according to Schmidt.

“We haven’t heard that at all,” he said the day after the Carbondale meeting. “You obviously have some very passionate people (in the Crystal Valley) about that.”

He said mountain biking enthusiasts have a history of working with the Crested Butte Land Trust to determine where trails are appropriate.

Like Ochs, Schmidt said there is limited appeal to the entire McClure Pass to Crested Butte section.

“Are there people clamoring for it? No,” Schmidt said.

But the Kebler Pass Road corridor is essentially a pathway through two wilderness areas, so it provides a spectacular setting, he said. And a trail would quickly gain in popularity.

“I’d say everybody over here is looking for more trails,” he said. “They’re looking to explore.”

Dale Will, acquisition and special projects director for Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, said the majority of riders and hikers wouldn’t necessarily travel the entire length of the Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail in one trip. Instead the trail would provide shorter opportunities.

“It creates an infinite number of options on shorter sections. Kebler Pass is a drop-dead gorgeous place,” he said. “(Travelers) could use McClure Pass Road and Kebler Pass Road to do loops, too.”

Ochs and Schmidt said the most immediate benefit of the McClure Pass to Crested Butte section of trail would be adding sections of single-track trail that get riders off Kebler Pass Road.

There’s currently about 3.75 miles of single-track between the summit of Kebler Pass and Crested Butte. That route mostly parallels the road on what’s known as the Kebler Pass Wagon Trail and Wagon Road. However, the eastern side of that route falls about 2 miles shy of the town of Crested Butte. An extension of the trail would have to use private property.

Biking enthusiasts in Crested Butte want to see that single-track also extended west so that existing backcountry routes such as the Dyke Trail could be linked to a route that keeps riders off Kebler Pass Road.

“If that was all single-track (along Kebler Pass) this town would go crazy,” Ochs said.

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails helped with preliminary planning for about 45 miles of trail from McClure Pass to Crested Butte trail. In some ways it is simpler than planning the trail through the Crystal River Valley. Roughly half of the Crested Butte side already has existing single-track trails or backcountry roads through national forest. Also some of the proposed route was included in the Forest Service’s 2010 Travel Management Plan so the federal review will be less onerous.

The Paonia Ranger District of the Gunnison National Forest is leading the review for the McClure to Crested Butte stretch. If the money can be found, the district is ready to add 2 miles of trail on the western end of Kebler Pass Wagon Road, according to information shared at the Oct. 30 open house.

On the Carbondale side, the commissioners will consider a second reading Dec. 19 for preliminary approval for the trail. If granted, the section from Redstone to the summit of McClure Pass will be submitted for review by the White River National Forest and Colorado Department of Transportation.


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