RFTA’s on right track with trail management plan
August 17, 2006
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority deserves credit for hiring a wildlife biologist to draft a management plan for a controversial new stretch of the Rio Grande Trail.RFTA hired Jonathon Lowsky, a former wildlife expert for Pitkin County, to examine the section of trail from Rock Bottom Ranch to the Catherine Bridge. He was asked to gauge the trail’s potential effect on wildlife and recommend ways to minimize the impact.Lowsky pulled no punches. He recommended a dog ban and a seasonal closure during winter, when deer and elk must conserve their calories to survive. The closure is also necessary, he said, to avoid disturbing a blue heron rookery at critical times.The dates of the proposed closure need to be ironed out. Lowsky suggested mid-November to mid-March. The Colorado Division of Wildlife recommended Dec. 1 to May 1.RFTA’s board of directors should enact Lowsky’s suggestions before any feet or bicycle tires hit the trail in October. Sure, the Roaring Fork Valley prides itself on being dog-friendly and critics will decry a ban as a horrid sign of changing times. But this is a small concession for the sake of the midvalley’s wildlife, and experience on other trails has already proved that a leash law won’t do the trick.So we support the dog ban. We’re nervous, however, about RFTA’s ability to enforce it.It seems clear that RFTA personnel cannot issue tickets to people who ignore a winter closure or take a dog on the trail. RFTA hopes to convince Eagle and Garfield counties to handle enforcement as long as RFTA pays for a “ranger.” Forgive us for being a bit skeptical. The counties already have a tough time finding enough deputies to patrol the Roaring Fork Valley portions of their vast jurisdictions.Hopefully RFTA officials will sharpen their pencils and come up with a creative, legitimate enforcement plan.We believe RFTA is moving in the right direction to address the wildlife issues associated with this trail. If the agency takes Lowsky’s advice to heart and can actually enforce its wildlife-protection rules, then we think the trail and the animals can coexist.