Open Space board says Filoha Meadows ‘off the table’ for Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail | AspenTimes.com

Open Space board says Filoha Meadows ‘off the table’ for Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail

Filoha Meadows is "off the table" for the proposed Carbondale-to-Crested Butte pedestrian trail, the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board of directors unanimously decided Thursday.

The 50-acre open space parcel in the heart of the Crystal River Valley offers too valuable of wildlife habitat to foul with a trail, the five board directors told the open space staff.

"It's been a nonstarter from the start," said board member Hawk Greenway.

The meadows provide habitat for bighorn sheep and other wildlife. A trail would disrupt the wildlife, even if seasonally closed, critics contend.

There are some other sections between BRB campground south of Carbondale to Redstone that should be removed from consideration for a trail alignment, the open space board members said.

The open space program has been collecting public comment on two alignments for the roughly 20-mile stretch from BRB to the summit of McClure Pass. One alignment is along the Highway 133 corridor. The other is east of the Crystal River on old railroad and road right-of-ways. A blending of the two alignments is possible and Greenway said that would be appropriate.

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In a work session, the open space board majority also decided they want to slow down what's evolved into a controversial debate about the trail. The county collected 527 survey responses from interested parties this fall. While the majority of people support a trail, Crystal Valley residents are widely opposed because of threats to wildlife and encroachment on private property.

Some residents of the valley have criticized Pitkin County for a process they claimed is rigged to favor building a trail. They wanted "no trail" as an option in the survey.

"In terms of process, we need to turn down the temperature," board member Graeme Means said.

The process has proved to be too controversial, there have been "too many lines drawn in the sand" and faulty conclusions drawn without full facts, he said.

Means proposed that the county hire an outside consultant to take over as point person in the process. That was embraced by board Chairman Wayne Ives and members Howie Mallory and Tim McFlynn.

"People are livid — livid — with the process. Not the alignment but the process," McFlynn said.

Greenway opposed hiring a consultant to take over the process. He said he felt the open space staff has done a good job and hiring a consultant will just slow the process unnecessarily.

"I'm not interested in killing the trail by studying it to death," he said.

The other board members didn't define if they felt the system was flawed or if a different approach was needed simply because of the controversy.

Ives said he doesn't want to see endless study but feels the open space program needs to "hit the reset button" on the process.

McFlynn called the proposed trail "the most divisive item we've teed up. There hasn't been anything quite like it."

He noted that the debate was intense over the Rio Grande Trail as well, with some neighboring landowners feeling it would "be the end of the world." The trail has proved immensely popular and a destination attraction for some tourists.

It was uncertain Thursday if a Crystal Valley trail will receive a favorable recommendation by the open space board. The final decision rests with the Pitkin County commissioners.

The open space board discussed wildlife issues, cost, alignment and whether the trail should be continuous or built only in areas that are less controversial, such as Redstone to McClure Pass.

The direction of the trail and the process to consider it will theoretically become clearer at a joint meeting between the county commissioners and open space board on Jan. 16. Gary Tennenbaum, executive director of the open space program, said the staff will present the boards with an analysis of the process and how to proceed at that meeting.

Whatever happens, it's clear the trail won't be built any time soon. If Pitkin County proceeds, the next step would be a draft plan that would be opened to additional public comment. Means said the public had to be assured Pitkin County isn't racing toward a resolution.

"We're creating an idea here — not starting bulldozers tomorrow," he said.

Thursday's meeting attracted a thin crowd because no public comment was accepted. Longtime Redstone resident and Crystal River Caucus member Bill Jochems welcomed news that Filoha Meadows was taken off the table and the process is being examined.

"That sounds very encouraging," he said. The current process has been a "cram down from the top down," he said.

Thursday's meeting was taped by GrassRoots TV and is currently available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6SYwKt7YWM.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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