New Castle council backs evaluating illegal trails
NEW CASTLE — Town council signed onto an effort requesting the Bureau of Land Management evaluate a network of unauthorized trails north of town with the hope of bringing some of those trails into a larger network open to mountain bike use.
Council unanimously agreed Tuesday to endorse and send a letter to the BLM asking the agency to work with the town on addressing existing and future trail planning in an area designated by the BLM in July as an Extensive Recreation Management Area (ERMA).
The letter, which was drafted by the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, a local chapter of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, is an initial step toward addressing the unauthorized trails, said Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association.
Although planned and authorized construction of trails is always the preferred route, the reality is that a number of trails have been built illegally and the best way to address them is to work with the land manager — the BLM in this case — to determine what trails can be authorized and which cannot.
“There’s a general feeling that it’s best to come forward with this stuff when it’s found out so we can do a better job in the future,” Pritchard said.
In this instance, he added, it was the BLM that approached the group to try and address the issue.
Unauthorized trails have become an issue, said David Boyd, public affairs specialist with the BLM Northwest Colorado District.
“There’s definitely been an ongoing proliferation of illegal trails in that area and that’s a big challenge for us,” Boyd said.
While the ERMA designation allows for the construction and authorization of new trails, those have to be both sustainable and balanced with other uses, Boyd added. For example, existing trails recently closed to motorized and mechanized use for the winter in order to protect wildlife. Numerous other factors, such as soil and plant life, have to be taken into account as well.
As for the letter sent by council, Boyd said the BLM hopes to start working with stakeholders on the issue in 2016. However, the process for establishing trails in the ERMA is unique and depends on specific situations, rather than a uniform, standard process. It must be deliberate and comprehensive, which means it will take some time, Boyd added.
Having previously worked with the BLM on a similar issue in the Crown Special Recreation Management Area near Carbondale, Pritchard said he would not expect unauthorized trails to be brought into the system in 2016.
“That seems too quick and in our experience these things do take a long time, but we’re excited,” he said.
Some of the trails are well built and would require minimal work, while others might have to be shut down, but if stakeholders can start studying them in 2016 it would be a step in the right direction, Pritchard added.
Although the letter is seen as a start, the effort is stirring excitement from town officials intrigued by the economic potential, and residents who recreate in the area.
Mountain biking is becoming the new skiing, Graham Riddile, a New Castle resident who has been involved in the process, told council in discussing the economic potential.
“I think it’s a huge step of economic development,” Mayor Bob Gordon told the group of supporters Tuesday. “ … and I can tell you we’re so happy to be able to support you. It’s exciting to me.”
While the trails currently are used mostly by residents, a developed and extensive network could attract people to town, Pritchard said. Regardless, until some of the trails are authorized, they cannot be advertised and promoted as an asset, he added.
Tom Elder, a New Castle resident and self-described trail runner, said he is not much of a mountain biker, but bringing some of the trails into the official system would likely mean improvements and better maintenance, which would benefit all users.
“They’re a great asset for the community,” Elder told council Tuesday.
To maximize the full potential, though, access will have to be addressed in the future. More recently, there has been an emphasis on building trails at a more moderate grade, thereby allowing more riders to enjoy them, Pritchard said.
Currently, the Colorow Trail serves as the main authorized point of access. That trail is steep and physically challenging.
Adam Cornely, another New Castle resident involved in the effort, said he would love to have a trail system that he could ride on with his wife and children, but the Colorow Trail is too challenging. Several others echoed Cornely’s remarks.
Complicating the access issue is the fact that alternative routes would likely have to cross private property — an issue discussed Wednesday at a New Castle Parks Open Space Trails and Recreation Committee meeting. Those in attendance agreed that the best approach in the future would be for an organized community group to approach the private landowners.
Recognizing, again, that it is still early in the process, Cornely and others expressed optimism over the recent momentum.
“It’s pretty exciting because everyone is willing to think about it, talk about it and most importantly volunteer to get it done,” Cornely said.
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