User survey for Carbondale’s Red Hill area supports mud season closure, split on dog restrictions
A majority of users of the popular Red Hill Recreation Area north of Carbondale say they would be OK with closing the trails during the muddiest times of the year.
Short of a full closure, though — which federal land managers might not support — users also think better education through social media and signage could help to limit, or at least redirect, trail use during the spring mud season.
Those were some of the findings in the recent online trail user survey conducted by the Red Hill Council, the local organization that works with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to manage the area.
Fall is actually the most popular season for people to hike, run or bike the main trails on the south side of the system — often with their dogs — according to survey respondents.
But summer and spring are a close second, Red Hill Council board member Davis Farrar said.
“That was a little bit interesting to me, because it seems like spring is when we see the most people,” he said.
Early spring is also when Red Hill is most impacted by people using the trails too soon when they are the muddiest during the snow melt. That results in trail damage and excessive widening of trails as people try to cut around muddy sections, Farrar said.
“Most folks believe that addressing trail erosion is important,” he said of another specific question asked in the survey.
Farrar said the survey information will be evaluated and shared with local BLM officials. But when it comes to seasonal closures, the agency’s guidelines tend to steer away from site-specific closures when other areas in the vicinity, such as Prince Creek, are open, he said.
“We will be talking to them about the survey in terms of management strategies on Red Hill,” he said. “And they do leave some of that to us.”
A total of 270 people responded to the survey, which was promoted on the group’s Facebook page and through other social media and on the Red Hill Council’s website.
“We’re pretty happy with that, and it does give us some indication of things we need to be thinking about,” Farrar said.
The survey did draw in more Carbondale local users, however, and not as many from elsewhere in the Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County, he said.
Overall, Red Hill sees upward of 70,000 user days per year. That number includes multiple repeat visits.
“We would have liked to have seen more people participate in the survey, particularly because most folks who use Red Hill have an opinion about something to do with Red Hill,” Farrar said.
Much of that has to do with muddy trails, occasional conflicts between people on foot and those on bikes, dogs on the trails and whether there should be a leash requirement.
Dog poop being left in baggies alongside the trails is a major concern — 90% of respondents said dog waste should be bagged and carried out by the dog owner, not left for someone else to deal with.
“That’s not an issue that’s unique to this area,” Farrar said.
In general, 26% of respondents did not see a need to restrict dogs on Red Hill, while 18% said there’s a substantial need to restrict dogs.
The general sentiment is in support of dogs on trails (43%) and especially if they are leashed (29%), according to the survey results. Only 4% of respondents said they outright oppose dogs on the trails.
That changes when it comes to the newest section of the Red Hill area, the Sutey Ranch trails to the far north of the trail system, which have opened within the past two years.
Currently, dogs are allowed off leash in that area, which does have separately designated horseback, hiking and biking trails.
However, 50% of survey respondents said a leash rule should apply, and 19% said dogs should be prohibited in that area, which has seasonal closures for wildlife protection. Another 23% said there shouldn’t be any restrictions on dogs.
People are still just discovering that part of the trail system, which is accessed from a separate trailhead off of Garfield County Road 112 — 27% of survey respondents said they’ve never used the Sutey Ranch trails.
“The majority of respondents would like new trails to be added to the north side as a way to access more terrain, make more loops and designate separate trails for horses and bikes,” Farrar said.
One new dedicated bike-only trail is currently under construction near the main trail head on the Carbondale side.
The “C-Line” trail will allow for a gentler descent than the existing B-Line, while keeping downhill mountain bikers and hikers separated on the lower stretches.
Read the survey:
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.