This was the headline for an editorial I wrote for the Winter Park Manifest when the Windy Gap Reservoir won approval from the Army Corps of Engineers. In its Environmental Impact Statement the agency said losing what amounted to just a “typical” cottonwood grove was not a reason to reject a permit for a dam which, as many of us predicted, has been one more knife in the Colorado River’s heart. The large shallow reservoir below Granby raises downstream river water temperatures, one more insult added to a nearly terminally ill national treasure.
I reluctantly voted for the question 1A on the ballot in 2016, approving a .3 tenths of a percent sales tax to support open space, water and trail efforts in Grand County. The reasons for my reluctance were proven as the County Commissioners on April 24 allocated $1 million to address a problem created by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District – a problem eastern slope taxpayers should pay for themselves. Three million was requested, meaning this will return in future 1A funds discussions.
I voted for 1A because I know the severe problems our existing trail system faces, and because I believe we need to both re-route and build new trails to better serve inevitable growth in Middle Park. The legality of the County Commissioners 15% cap set on the amount of 1A money spent on trails is questionable because this restriction did not appear in the ballot language.
My yearly sojourn last month took me to Patagonia – finding there a landscape incredible to behold. The disappointing part of the trip might foretell our future. In both Chile and Argentina, limited public lands concentrate users in relatively small parks. Steep terrain, large icecaps and a small investment in trails resulted in sharing the Mt. Fitz Roy trail with 100 people on what equated to a very stormy late October off-season day in Los Glaciares National Park. A ranger told me I would have seen 500 on a summer January day. He added they had a staff of 8 trail maintenance people in a Park nearly 7 times bigger than our Rocky Mountain National Park.
The real heart break was found when I walked off the trail to water the landscape – finding piles of human waste and white toilet paper littered everywhere. I’ll treat readers to some real poop talk soon – the Grand Huts Association has a few innovative approaches to this smelly issue which is also increasingly polluting our backcountry.
Limited trail kilometers led to the density of users. We are headed down the same crowded and poorly maintained path. The US Forest Service report at the last trail agency meeting hosted by the Headwaters Trails Alliance was their agency has been clearing downed trees and cutting trees likely to fall over trails (killed by the Mountain Pine beetle) for the past 8 years – largely to the exclusion of almost all other back country projects. Having more than half of the agency’s annual budget disappear into firefighting certainly does not help. Our community must step up if we hope to keep even our existing trails open.
HTA has been slowly denigrated on the County Commissioners radar from a status of being a near-county department to becoming just another grantee pleading for a part of the Commissioner’s annual allocation to the Grand Foundation. HTA’s request for operating funds from 1A revenue was the only grant rejected by the Board. Summit County benefits from a full time, fully staffed and equipped trails department, as do many other recreation economy based Colorado counties. The Board has promised to look for other funding sources for HTA, discussions are pending.
Mountain biking is the Fraser Valley’s largest summer business. Trails are a major economic driver for at least 2/3 of the county – and will improve for Kremmling if the Wolford area expands to include complimentary non-motorized uses in addition to its already excellent motorized system.
We must address these critical local issues and not use local tax money to fix the damage the Front Range has inflicted on our rivers. It is time for our elected representatives to do the heavy lifting to bring real money to our county to address these problems. Barring a fix by the Commissioners , it may also be time to consider another ballot issue to remove the questionable 15% trails money restriction, allow for 1A monies to go to new trail construction and to help fund the operation of a County trails department.