November 30, 2006
With all this killer snow, a person has to make tracks when he can. Mine happened to be on the old Rio Grande railroad right of way Thursday.A 234-mile stretch of the trail between Rock Bottom Ranch and Catherine Bridge in the midvalley was closed to human use starting today. Therefore, I felt compelled to get out and ski it Thursday on the last day legally possible. I wasn’t disappointed.That stretch of trail is being closed because it has evolved into such good wildlife habitat in the decades since trains stopped traveling the tracks. To its credit, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority decided on the closure when it built the trail this fall. It remains off limits until May 1.The closed stretch is part of a longer, 4-mile piece of trail between Catherine Bridge and Hooks Lane near Emma. I found virgin powder along more than half of the route, piled nearly knee-deep where hillsides closed in on south.The character of the trail changes significantly once you hit Rock Bottom. There are no cars and no homes. Geese lazed in the sun on a streambank. Ducks puttered around a beaver-built pond. Brilliant white snow still clung to bushes clogging the wetlands and climbing the slopes.Tracks of deer, elk or both (sorry, I haven’t learned to track ungulates) show where the animals tumble off the steep slopes of the Crown, that mass of mountain between El Jebel and Mount Sopris that provides critical winter range.There is no doubt that stretch of trail that’s now closed would make an excellent playground this winter. I’m still glad it’s closed. It makes even better habitat for creatures that need it this winter.The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.