Redstone to McClure Pass trail proposal unveils deep divisions

Nearly 400 comments submitted to Forest Service after draft review released

A cyclist rides along Highway 133 on the way up McClure Pass. Officials are considering a separate 7-mile bike path from Redstone to the top of the pass.
Jeremy Wallace / Aspen Times archive

Nearly 400 public comments submitted to the U.S. Forest Service over the past month leave no doubt that the Redstone to McClure Pass trail remains extremely controversial.

The comments generally fell into two camps — cyclists who want a safe alternative to Highway 133 and people who contend wildlife will pay too high of price from the new route.

The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District released a draft Environmental Assessment Jan. 20 that analyzes the potential effects of a proposal by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails to build a 7-mile, natural surface, non-motorized trail from Redstone to the McClure Pass summit. The route would use two decommissioned routes in national forest — the Rock Creek Wagon Road and Old McClure Pass Road — for a portion of the new trail. About 5 of the 7 miles are on forest lands.

This map shows the alignment of the proposed trail from Redstone, top, to the McClure Pass summit, lower left.
Image from U.S. Forest Service draft Environmental Assessment

Forest Service staff will now analyze the comments to see if there are additional issues it must study. In theory, a Final Environmental Assessment and draft decision could be issued this spring. That would trigger a 45-day objection period. Given the interest in the trail, an objection from one side or another appears likely.

The public comment period isn’t regarded as a popularity contest, said Forest Service spokesman David Boyd. Instead, the agency wants specific comments on issues raised in the environmental assessment.

“For instance, a single comment that raises information we hadn’t considered or points to a flaw in our analysis will likely have more of an influence on the process than the number of ‘I like it/don’t like it’ comments we might get on a controversial project,” Boyd said via email.

Although the agency may not view the debate as a popularity contest, a broad sample of the comments taken by The Aspen Times shows many people expressed their views on the trail without citing specific information in the draft EA that needs further review.

Flowers grow around Hayes Creek Falls near Carbondale on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. The proposed trail would provide trail access from Redstone to the popular falls. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association urged members and supporters early in the process to send in comments for support of the trail. Scores of cyclists responded.

On the last day of public comment, Wilderness Workshop submitted letters of opposition from 139 members and supporters.

Other key players who submitted comments were the Crystal River Caucus, the Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association and the Roaring Fork Group of the Sierra Club.

Passions run deep with people on both sides of the debate. Many environmentalists said the feds’ review should have looked at a “do-nothing” alternative or a trail route entirely along Highway 133.

Environmentalists also hammered at the point that the 7-mile trail section between Redstone and McClure Pass should not be reviewed independently but instead as part of the whole concept. Pitkin and Gunnison counties are considering an 83-mile trail from Carbondale to Crested Butte. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails has already constructed about 5 miles of trail south of Carbondale and has done the planning on a trail from that point to the top of McClure Pass. For now, the department is only proposing construction of the Redstone to McClure Pass section.

Critics are trying to maneuver the Forest Service to review the entire trail into the Crested Butte area. They are pressing for a more detailed study called an Environmental Impact Statement.

“If analysis of the project proceeds, an EIS considering the entire (Carbondale to Crested Butte) proposal must be prepared, with the draft EIS distributed for public comment,” the Sierra Club said in its comment. The Crystal River Caucus took a similar position.

In a different section, the Sierra Club said, “Although wildlife losses from this one section of trail may be small, the cumulative impact from the loss of wildlife that will occur from the development of several other trail sections are large and will negatively impact wildlife populations throughout the Crystal River valley. To prevent further fragmentation and habitat and wildlife loss, the recreational trail should only be developed within the existing highway corridor.”

Some residents of the Crystal Valley echoed the wildlife concerns.

“I have known the Bear Creek trail for 30 years and have watched wildlife population dwindle, but it is still the place where I am most likely to have a quiet, respectful meeting of eyes with wildlife,” wrote Redstone resident Janet Long. “The disruption from construction of the trail to accommodate bikes, and the additional traffic (especially looking ahead to the likelihood of this being part of an extensive long-distance bike trail that will draw huge numbers of bikers) makes no sense to me. I see no excuse for taking the bike trail into the woods instead of keeping it along the highway.”

The draft EA noted hikers are already using the old wagon road and old McClure Pass route. Some proponents of a formal trail contend some of the people already using the route want to preserve it for themselves.

“Local property owners who object to it represent the epitome of NIMBY-ism,” former professional cyclist and trail proponent Jeanne Golay wrote. “We should be encouraging the creation of infrastructure for alternative modes to access the outdoors. As a community we should put our resources toward providing safe, separated trails for the pursuit of healthy activities to reduce obesity and its related negative health impacts.”

The draft EA concluded that the trail would have limited environmental impacts because it is immediately on the highway corridor or parallels it. The study said the proposed trail would have “negligible new impacts” on elk and suggested the animals might be better off with a formal trail. As conditions stand, the informal routes on old roads are used year-round. If a formal trail is constructed, it would be closed to all uses from Dec. 1 through April 30 “to protect winter range for elk,” the EA said.

The comments can be found at