Paul Andersen: Have a trail in your back yard? | AspenTimes.com
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Paul Andersen: Have a trail in your back yard?

Paul Andersen

The Crystal River Valley is currently embroiled in a controversy centered on public access to public lands. Some want it, some don’t, and the question calls for an exploration of property rights and personal values.

Before weighing in on new public trails in the Crystal Valley, I need to confess that a similar issue is lurking in my back yard, where a candidate for a new public trail runs about 30 yards from my door.

I live in the Fryingpan Valley where a century-old stagecoach road traverses the Seven Castles area right behind my house. The Stage Road, as it’s known, is being proposed as a public trail by the Basalt Trails Committee. It could eventually run from Basalt to Ruedi Reservoir.

I know how the folks on the Crystal feel about the old Crystal River Railroad grade becoming a public thoroughfare and about new access trails to Filoha Meadows and Wine Point. It’s a little scary. Assuming that any of these trails, including the one in my back yard, will become popular, they could usher lots of people into areas that have had little human impact for decades.

My neighbors and I have grown to appreciate our “private trail.” We hike it, run it, ride bikes on it, and some of us rue the day when it is open to the public. Some neighbors of mine are downright hostile to the idea.

Still, I support the opening of the Stage Road, just as I support a public trail up the Crystal and public access to Filoha Meadows and Wine Point. Despite my cherished sense of isolation, I believe the public benefit of access to beautiful places outweighs my self-interest.

In the case of my backyard trail, the route is an old public thoroughfare that was here long before I came. It’s the same in the Crystal, where the old railroad grade was established more than a century ago, and where public easements to publicly owned open space are decades old.

Public trails enhance appreciation for the remarkable places we share with one another, and public land should be accessible to the public as long as management goals are clearly identified and enforced.

These goals should include sensitivity to wildlife and to neighboring communities. As a backyard trail advocate, I can only hope that the people who use these trails are respectful of my neighborhood. Trusting trail users is a vital antidote to xenophobic hostility.

Some of my neighbors may not agree that “our trail” is a public right of way deserving of greater patronage. Some residents of the Crystal who fear a valleywide trail and access to public open space undoubtedly feel the same.

But we don’t live in a cloister. Ours is not a feudal system that bars commoners from lands we claim by willfully expanding our personal jurisdictions. We need to share the places we love, then hope that others love them in turn. Property rights must inevitably extend to public as well as to private lands.

We live in a community rich with a vast abundance of public land. Generously granting access to our special places guarantees that others have the right to enjoy them, too. The best we backyard trail neighbors can do is to be good stewards and expect the same from others.

Instead of blocking public access with hostility and anger, we trail residents should become the best neighbors we can be. That’s what living in a community is all about.

We need to look at new trails as opportunities, not only for the public to enjoy access, but for us neighboring property owners to expand our sense of community.

Paul Andersen welcomes trail users to his back yard and hopes to be welcomed in turn. His column appears on Mondays.


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