Proposed Redstone to McClure Pass trail spurs quick, lively debate

Forest Service accepting comments on proposal through Feb. 22; open house will be held Feb. 7

Flowers grow around Hayes Creek Falls near Carbondale on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. If the proposed Redstone to McClure Pass Trail is approved and constructed, it would provide alternative access from Redstone. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The public wasted no time weighing in on the proposed Redstone to McClure Pass trail as part of the U.S. Forest Service’s review process.

The White River National Forest released a draft Environmental Assessment and opened public comment on Jan. 20. In just one week 53 people have submitted comments. The comment period ends Feb. 22.

Trail supporters got an early jump in the debate, though Forest Service officials insist it is not a popularity contest. The Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association urged members to submit comments and provided a link to do so on its website. The Aspen Times took a random sample of comments and found numerous people contend the trail would improve safe bicycle travel and enhance enjoyment of the outdoors.

“I currently cycle on Hwy 133, which is incredibly dangerous,” wrote James Neu. “Having an off-road option will allow me to enjoy my surroundings without worrying about my life.”

One shortcoming of the Forest Service’s online comment system is no addresses are provided, unless a person makes it a point to offer the information.

Neu went on to say that the path might face opposition from some residents of the Crystal Valley, but the public should determine use of public lands.

“We all deserve the opportunity to experience this stunning area (and not just from behind a windshield),” he wrote.

Karen Onderko wrote that the project would make a wonderful addition to the region.

“Access to that beautiful scenery from a bike seat would be amazing,” she wrote. “This would also bring people to the town of Carbondale for a meal, shopping, and strolling the town.”

Increased tourism in the Crystal River Valley is exactly what Nicole Farrell opposes. She wrote that the trail proposal is a “terrible idea.”

“People who live in Marble do not want more people coming up to McClure Pass,” Farrell said. “There is no need or want for any bike path up the Crystal. Is nothing sacred anymore? We do not want to bring more traffic to Redstone or Marble, automobile and bike traffic alike.”

Ralph Wanner also warned that building the trail as proposed would unleash problems that the Forest Service and Pitkin County haven’t foreseen.

“I don’t know how aware you are of the huge increase in bikepacking, but if this trail is put in as a mountain bike route it will become a very sought-after route and will be overrun with bikepackers from around the world, yes, around the world,” Wanner wrote. “I have asked the Forest Service if they have a plan to regulate camping along the route and they do not have a plan. With no plan, the route will quickly be overused and abused, destroying its natural character.”

Wanner suggested keeping the entire 7-mile trail proposal in the Highway 133 corridor to minimize wildlife impact and make it accessible to road bikers. As proposed, about 4.5 of the 7 miles would be outside the Highway 133 corridor.

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails proposed the trail. The 7-mile segment is part of Pitkin County’s broader plan to promote an 83-mile trail from Carbondale to Crested Butte. That is being pursued with support from entities in Gunnison County.

The Redstone to McClure Pass section would feature 2 miles constructed on the west side of Colorado Highway 133 from Redstone to Hayes Creek Falls. At the falls, it would leave the highway corridor and follow a historic wagon road for 1.5 miles through the Bear Creek area, then rejoin the highway corridor at Placita for 0.6 miles. From Placita, the trail would follow the Old McClure Pass Road bed for 2.2 miles, cross beneath Highway 133 in a new pedestrian/bike underpass and continue 0.7 miles to the summit. The uppermost portion of the trail would be cut into territory outside the highway corridor and not on an old route.

The trail would be non-motorized and start unpaved. It would be closed for all uses from Dec. 1 through April 30 to protect winter range for elk.

There are existing trails on the old wagon road and old pass road that get used year-round, mostly by Crystal Valley residents. The Forest Service’s Environmental Assessment acknowledges a formal trail would attract more users and potentially alter the experience local users have come to enjoy. On the flip side, the trail would enhance public access to public lands, the document said.

The winter closure of the proposed trail would offer more protection for wildlife than the existing year-round use of decommissioned routes, according to the EA.

Some high profile observers of the issue have yet to weigh in on the proposed trail. Wilderness Workshop, the region’s oldest homegrown environmental group, promised in a Facebook post last week that it would thoroughly analyze the draft Environmental Assessment and weigh in before deadline. The environmental protection group expressed concern that the Forest Service wasn’t taking a broad enough view on the affects of recreation on wildlife.

The Crystal River Caucus is also working on formal comments. The Forest Service values the input of the caucus enough that it held a sneak peek of the EA for the organization the week before the document was released to the public.

The environmental assessment including maps and information about how to comment are available at:

The Forest Service will host an open house and answer questions on Feb. 7 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Third Street Center, 520 S. Third St. in Carbondale.


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