Crystal trail plan gets Pitkin County approval, now goes to state and feds for further review
A controversial plan for a trail from Carbondale to Crested Butte received the first of two approvals needed from the Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday, but board members vowed they would withdraw support if further study concludes it will harm wildlife.
The commissioners approved a first reading of the plan by a 5-0 vote. They will consider a second reading Dec. 19.
The plan doesn’t approve any construction. It just advances the concept to a next level of review. In addition, it focuses on building a “soft-surface” trail from Redstone to the summit of McClure Pass. It delays most decisions on the stretch between BRB Campground, 6 miles south of Carbondale, and Redstone.
The Open Space and Trails board recommended approval of the plan by a 4-1 vote earlier in the afternoon, with Michael Kinsley casting the dissenting vote. He said he didn’t necessarily feel the plan should be stopped but that he wanted to go on record as expressing a possible “danger” of it proceeding.
Kinsley, a former county commissioner, warned about “the phenomenon of momentum.” Sometimes projects are so big and so much time gets invested in them that they become difficult to stop — even if, in this case, they don’t have the full support of government officials that are proposing action.
“It tends to happen by default,” Kinsley said.
Some of the commissioners said they understood his concern.
“City of Aspen is really good about getting momentum going and not being able to say ‘stop,’” said commission Chairwoman Patti Clapper.
However, she said if further environmental studies show the trail cannot be ecologically viable, she vowed to blow the whistle.
“We can say ‘stop’ at any time,” Clapper said.
Commissioner Rachel Richards, who is leaving office in January because of term limits, noted there is a “funny dynamic” in places such as the Roaring Fork Valley that are so outdoor-oriented. On the one hand, residents fight to keep public lands in public lands, she said, but on the other hand, residents bicker among themselves over access to their public lands.
That’s exactly what happened during the 4½ -hour meeting in Carbondale Wednesday. More than 100 people packed the Third Street Center for the deliberations. The crowd thinned to about 15 by the time the commissioners voted.
During public comment, people gave impassioned testimony both in support of the trail and for leaving the wildlife and ecosystem alone.
Gretchen Straub of Aspen warned that residents of the Roaring Fork Valley continue to put their “wants and desires” over the needs of wildlife. She questioned why another recreational trail is necessary.
“We have torn up Hunter Creek,” she said. “We have torn up Droste for Sky Mountain Park.” Aspen Skiing Co. expanded at Snowmass and has a proposal for expanding Aspen Mountain, she continued.
“What’s left for the animals?” Straub asked, noting they have no voice. “We need to be their voice. We owe it to them because we have encroached on (their habitat) over and over.”
Dixie Jacobs Luke, a resident of “the far side of McClure Pass,” said she was speaking on behalf of the Jacobs family by asking if the trail is “really necessary.”
Adding the trail will attract more people to the charming valley and create inherent problems.
“I’m not sure the valley needs more tourists,” Jacobs said.
In a blunt approach, she admitted to being “selfish” as an area resident who loves the outdoors and the recreational opportunities it provides.
“Do we want more people coming and sharing these trails?” she asked.
Another speaker built off that theme, predicting that if the trail goes in, eventually a “wall” will be needed to keep the flood of people out.
“We’ve put trails everywhere in this state. We don’t need more,” the man said.
While both sides were well-represented, there were probably a few more speakers in favor of the trail.
Doris Downey, a resident of the Crystal River Park subdivision, said she was “thrilled” by the prospect of being able to get off Highway 133, which has an increasing amount of vehicular traffic.
“It’s really a dream come true for many of us,” she said.
Chuck Malloy, a resident of the Prince Creek area south of Carbondale, urged the county officials to use their resources to build a great recreational trail up the valley. While many longtime residents will have a tough time embracing a trail, they will get used to it over time, he said.
“The impact of this nonmotorized route on wildlife will be negligible,” Malloy said. As proof, he noted how Yellowstone National Park is a haven for wildlife despite 2 million human visitors per year.
Martha Moran, who recently retired from the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, urged the county to “go slowly and make it possible.”
“I think if you move this along it will be a legacy trail,” she said.
If it is destined to be a legacy trail, it’s going to be a long time in the making. Pitkin County staff, appointed officials and elected officials worked for 30 months to get it to this point.
Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Director Gary Tennenbaum told the open space and county commissioner boards that approving the plan would trigger submitting a request for the Redstone to McClure Pass portion of trail to the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Department of Transportation for review.
A portion of the trail would be along Highway 133, triggering CDOT’s review. Other portions along Hayes Creek Falls and old McClure Pass Road would be on national forest, triggering the agency review.
The Forest Service study under the National Environmental Policy Act would probably be about two years from when an application was deemed complete, Tennenbaum said.
Meanwhile, Pitkin County will continue studying the BRB to Redstone proposed trail alignment and biodiversity projects to enhance wildlife habitat and restore riverbank.
Tennenbaum said it would be a decade-long process, at least, to build a trail in phases.
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Pitkin County’s vaccination roll-out continues Friday and Sunday and will include the newly-approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine.