Roush: Why Wilderness Workshop objected to the Redstone to McClure Pass Trail
A February headline from The Aspen Times read: “Not everyone aboard with plans for Redstone-McClure trail.” As executive director at Wilderness Workshop – one of those groups not on-board – I wanted to share more about why we objected to this project and our concerns regarding the planning and development of new trails.
In mid-March, Wilderness Workshop submitted our objection to the final environmental assessment and draft decision notice for a proposed seven-mile section of trail connecting Redstone with McClure Pass (a portion of the proposed Crystal Valley Trail and the even longer Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail).
Proposed by Pitkin County (which would construct and maintain the trail), five miles of the proposed trail are on White River National Forest lands, which triggers National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis. As the final part of this process, objections are a chance for individuals and organizations to ask the U.S. Forest Service to make changes to the draft decision. Our full objection, and 30 others, can be found in the online “Public Comment/Object Reading Room” for the project.
The rapid increase in recreation use and development poses one of the most significant impacts to wildlife and one of the greatest challenges facing our local land managers. USFS’s own data shows the White River National Forest is the most visited national forest in the country, and recreational use on the forest generates more economic activity than any other national forest. As anyone who has spent time on public lands over the past few years knows, this use has dramatically increased in a very short time.
Wilderness Workshop supports sustainable recreation uses on our public lands, including in some cases the development of new recreation experiences. It’s worth acknowledging and applauding that Pitkin County’s plans include several measures designed to benefit wildlife, like paying for a forest protection officer, habitat restoration projects, and protecting bighorn sheep. Additionally, the USFS decision for this trail segment includes a seasonal closure to protect winter big-game habitat.
At the same time, we are increasingly concerned about the growing impacts of recreation and other human development on wildlife and public lands. Any new trail in the Crystal River Valley or elsewhere should be sited to have the least possible impact to wildlife and ecosystems. No single trail or recreational experience can be held responsible for the declines in wildlife populations — and yet, collectively, our trail systems and recreation uses are undeniably impactful.
When this new trail proposal was submitted, USFS officials had a chance to develop a holistic plan for the Crystal River Valley and comprehensively analyze the impacts not just of this seven-mile trail, but also of the dozens of other miles of trails being proposed and discussed. This trail segment is part of the much longer 83-mile Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail, but USFS ignored that broader plan as well as other foreseeable recreation developments, including illegal user-created trails and their impacts.
As our objection highlights, USFS should holistically analyze and plan for recreation impacts throughout the Crystal River Valley and along the entire Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail. No future trails should be approved until this is complete.
Instead, the agency is considering just one segment of trail without a comprehensive plan that weighs recreational proposals alongside the ecological integrity and capacity of a stressed forest. The agency’s cumulative impact analysis should acknowledge the extent to which the Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail proposal and other foreseeable recreation will transform the Crystal River Valley and the trail corridor. But the environmental assessment fails to do any of this, continuing an ecologically damaging practice of piecemeal planning and analysis that leads to death by a thousand cuts for our wildlife and wildlands.
Regardless of what happens with this specific project, Wilderness Workshop will keep fighting for a holistic approach to any new recreation in the Crystal River Valley and across our public lands. It’s our strong belief this is necessary and beneficial for the human and non-human residents who call this special place home.
We’re an organization fiercely committed to protecting wild places – and sometimes that means taking stances that not everyone agrees with, stances that put the needs of wildlife before recreational developments. But we also believe public land managers and local communities can work together to look at proposals holistically and intentionally plan for both recreation and conservation.
Will Roush is the executive director at Wilderness Workshop, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the wilderness, water, and wildlife of Western Colorado’s public lands. When not in the office, you can most often find Will, his wife, Margaret, and their two children out on public lands.