Vagneur: Crystal River Trail is a tragedy in-waiting |

Vagneur: Crystal River Trail is a tragedy in-waiting

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

Interesting how the conversation on the proposed Crystal Valley Trail is taking place. Throw a little concern here, a little over there, bombast a bit if you think you can get away with it, and the next thing you know the damned trail will be built right through 800-plus acres of wildlife habitat.

As former Pitkin County Commissioner Jack Hatfield said at a Redstone public forum, “For those of us who are wildlife advocates, there are no compromises.”

That’s sort of true, Jack, but we all know that for the past umpteen years, when it comes to wildlife protection, we’ve been compromising it away as though we’re dealing with an infinite resource.

Unfortunately, the official wildlife advocates have no veto authority, so when Colorado Parks and Wildlife says that a particular project will cause harm to wildlife, it doesn’t seem to carry much weight. The Board of County Commissioners, burdened with antiquated zoning laws, has no real functional veto, either, short of being willing to take on lawsuits over “takings” and other property rights arguments. They can, however, back wildlife on this issue.

“You can build in a wildlife migration corridor, but you can’t have a dog.” Or, you can’t have fences, or whatever. I’ve seen this happen time-and-time again, and the government wildlife officers, who care a great deal, are powerless to do anything other than offer good advice and object to approval. Oftentimes, Parks and Wildlife is not even informed about a potential new project or building proposal in a wildlife migration corridor. It seems like no one wants to hear that maybe we should just say no.

Monday night in Redstone, wildlife biologist Rick Thompson, who was hired by the Wilderness Workshop to study the effects of trail-building up the Crystal River Valley as part of a link to an Aspen-to-Crested Butte trail, said it should be a “no brainer” as to the route the trail should take. Thompson said it should follow the Highway 133 alignment to the top of McClure Pass. To do otherwise would have negative impacts on wildlife, especially bighorn sheep and elk.

Naturally, that immediately draws out the same old whine that we get on every project affecting wildlife — it’ll cost too much to mitigate wildlife damage. How often have we heard the tired axiom, as proffered by Dale Will of Open Space and Trails, that the cost of the project will most likely be more expensive if it follows the Highway 133 alignment? How expensive is the loss of wildlife habitat, or the loss of wildlife itself?

And then, plunging ahead with full-blown compromise is the old saw about closing part or all of the trail during times sensitive to animal birthing and/or recovery from a hard winter. That’s only fair, isn’t it? Wouldn’t common sense tell you that if you have to close the damned thing during the spring when users are jonesing to shake off winter sluggishness, maybe you shouldn’t be sticking a trail through the neighborhood in the first place? And, if using the trail is tragic during the spring, it surely must be tragic during other times of the year as well, just in a different way.

Yeah, if you parse through the statements alluded to in Scott Condon’s well-written story, it appears we have about talked ourselves into constructing the Crystal Valley Trail through Red Wind Point, on up through Janeway (what a pastoral spot that is), sodomizing Filoha Meadows and putting a beautiful set of switchbacks up this side of McClure, driving almost the last of the elk from these areas. All this before we even get started on the conversation about what, or how, or should we even build the trail.

We have a tendency to screw up our open space with trails. As a matter of fact, some people think that Open Space and Trails is an oxymoron and should more accurately be identified as “Open Trails and Development.”

As one example, think back to the Droste Property, now called Sky Mountain Park, bought by Open Space and Trails (with others), a once quiet, pastoral spread of elk habitat, which now contains numerous mountain bike trails with three access points. I’m reasonably certain the elk would have preferred the quiet of several rarely occupied second homes in their domain rather than the raucous exuberance of people on bikes getting their fully expected Disneyland rush.

There aren’t a lot of bikers with the muscle or patience to ride from Carbondale to the top of McClure Pass, so guess what? On a road almost devoid of suitable parking along the shoulder, there will be a glut of illegally parked and over-parked SUVs all along the river from people wanting to ride a piece of the trail but not all of it.

It will not only be a nightmare for the people living up the Crystal, it will be a tragedy in-waiting for anyone who needs to travel that road during biking season.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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