Midvalley residents discuss future of ‘The Crown’
EL JEBEL ” Midvalley special-interests groups are trying to put aside their differences to create a management plan for a 6,000-acre island of public land that is surging in popularity as a playground.
About 75 people gathered in El Jebel on Monday night to discuss the future of a landmark called The Crown, a hump that lies, roughly speaking, between El Jebel and Mount Sopris.
Ranchers, equestrians, neighborhood property owners, off-road vehicle enthusiasts, hikers and mountain bikers are meeting at the invitation of the Bureau of Land Management to see if they can build consensus on how to manage The Crown.
If they are successful and present a proposal with a unified voice, it could guide BLM actions there for the next 25 years, according to Brian Moreno, a recreation planner with the federal agency.
The BLM is working on a Resource Management Plan for 500,000 acres in the Glenwood Springs district. That plan will determine everything from where gas exploration can occur to uses for specific roads and trails.
While the agency is often criticized for not trying hard enough to enlist public input, it singled out The Crown as one of the places to seek a citizens’ initiative. The agency asked a Basalt-based nonprofit, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, and its executive director, David Hamilton, to try to lead the process.
“We realize there is an extreme interest in recreation on The Crown,” Moreno told the crowd last night.
And there is extreme passion. While The Crown was largely dismissed as a dry, dusty, dull piece of ground by mountain bikers in the early 1990s, an awesome singletrack trail network has evolved off of Prince Creek Road in recent years.
Early-morning gunfire in the fall attests to the area’s popularity with big-game hunters.
Equestrians, dirt bikers and all-terrain vehicle riders have their preferred routes.
Some ranchers have leased lands in the rolling hills for decades for summer grazing.
And the Colorado Division of Wildlife says the sun-drenched slopes are desperately needed by deer and elk to survive winters.
It remains to be seen if all the various interests can pull together for one plan. The BLM challenged them to submit a proposal by February.
Passions flared at times during last night’s meeting – demonstrating the difficulty of the task.
“I’m sorry – I’m getting nauseous looking at this list [of all users of The Crown],” said one woman who lives in the nearby Mount Sopris Ranch. The area has grown so much in popularity that it sometimes creates unacceptable levels of traffic on the once rural West Sopris Creek Road, she said.
A different woman, who said she represents the Emma Caucus, said homeowners strongly object to creation of a trailhead in their neighborhood, largely because of the traffic it will generate.
“There’s going to be a battle over increased use,” she vowed.
Rancher Rory Cerise, who grew up at the base of The Crown and knows it as well as anyone, said the land is “on the brink” of being overwhelmed by human users. “There’s too many people in there,” he said.
When asked about the impact of cattle grazing, Cerise said it is at about one-third of the level that it once was. He believes the grazing is at a sustainable level. Increased human use, he warned, could damage The Crown’s value for wildlife.
Numerous speakers noted that the midvalley’s booming population and demands for increased recreation point to the critical need for better planning on public lands.
“The Crown right now is a free-for-all. You can go wherever you want,” said Hamilton while facilitating the meeting.
Despite flare-ups, the debate was civil throughout a two-hour meeting. One speaker, a middle-aged Carbondale native, stressed that the BLM will only listen if citizens present a plan with a unified voice.
Much of the discussion centered on whether zones that have a distinct set of activities need to be established in different parts of The Crown. Those zones, various speakers noted, could be a great tool to prevent conflicts between cyclists, horse riders and drivers of vehicles and improve safety. Representatives of the group were going to take the spirit of the discussion and prepare a draft map with the zones for a future meeting.
If the experiment in consensus building fails, The Crown will suffer, Moreno said bluntly. No agency time or money will be dedicated to maintaining or developing new trails. The agency would largely leave the area as is – creating the risk that increasing use will increase conflicts and damage to the land.
The special interests agreed that is something they don’t want.
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