New segment of valley trail may be closed seasonally
People might have to yield to elk and other wildlife on part of the Rio Grande Trail.
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority will consider banning human use from Dec. 1 to May 1 on the next portion of trail it plans to build on the railroad corridor. RFTA is scheduled to construct 4.5 miles of trail this summer from Hooks Lane, in the Emma area, to the Catherine Bridge.
Limiting use of the $1 million trail to seven months of the year is one concession RFTA is contemplating to make the trail more compatible with wildlife using the area, according to Mike Hermes, who oversees trail construction for the transit agency. RFTA is also considering banning dogs year-round on at least part of the 4.5-mile stretch.
Hermes said RFTA doesn’t want to ruin the very qualities that make that stretch of the corridor attractive for a trail. He is working on recommendations RFTA’s board of directors will review later this spring.
“The final rules and regulations will be up to the board,” he said.
Part of the new trail segment will run through Rock Bottom Ranch, a working ranch and wildlife sanctuary that the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies owns. Everything from bear to birds uses the portion of the corridor from Rock Bottom to the bridge heavily. No trains have run on that section of the track for decades.
“This section of the Rio Grande railroad corridor has been relatively unused and free from disturbance in the past, which has caused its wildlife usage, diversity and value to increase,” said a letter from the Colorado Division of Wildlife to RFTA.
Deer and elk spend winters on federal land known as the Crown, adjacent to the railroad corridor. There is “considerable movement” into the corridor by the ungulates throughout the winter,” according to the DOW’s letter. The agency noted that a great blue heron nest colony is located along the corridor, and many small mammals and songbirds use it as well.
“The Division would recommend and strongly encourage RFTA to adopt a seasonal closure from Dec. 1 to May 1,” the DOW letter said. “This area has considerable use by deer and elk during the critical winter months when they are most susceptible to disturbance.”
Blue herons also arrive at the nesting site from mid-February to early March. They lay eggs during March and April
“During this time great blue herons are very susceptible to disturbance and flush easily. Repeated disturbance may cause discontinued use of the nest site or abandonment of young herons before they fledge,” said the DOW letter, signed by former Area Wildlife Manager Pat Tucker, who was promoted within the agency since he sent the letter last winter.
Even if it is closed for nearly half of the year, the Rock Bottom segment of the trail is a milestone in the development of the corridor. This segment will complete the link for roughly 30 miles between Aspen and Carbondale.
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