The Crestone Eagle, April 2007:

North Access Team seeks collaboration on traffic study
by Lisa Cyriacks

NAT (North Access Team) is soliciting proposals for a private transportation assessment and study for the various routes to provide access to Great Sand Dunes National Park (GSDNP) lands that were identified through the Sonoran Institute public meetings. Collaboration is indeed proving to be the key. As the GSDNP is wrapping up its planning process for a General Management Plan (June 2007), the U.S. Rio Grande Forest Service (USFS) is beginning its planning process to amend its management plan to incorporate the Baca Tract, lands recently acquired east of the Baca Grande subdivision.

The Sonoran Institute was engaged in 2006 to assist in resolving federal and private conflicts over public land access. The process ended without an agreed-upon access route to public lands through the Baca Grande subdivision. Part of this lack of agreement was due to uncertainty about future traffic and associated impacts on residents over time by visitors accessing public lands using roads through the subdivision. A consensus document was prepared on November 13, 2006 —the North Entrance Study Group Consensus Recommendation Report. One of those recommendations of that report was to have a study prepared that would analyze the impacts additional traffic would have on the community along the various possible routes. Also part of that consensus process was the formation of a committee to implement recommendations. That committee is the North Access Team.

The proposal prepared by NAT includes as assessment of the cumulative traffic impacts of visitors to the GSDNP and the USFS Baca Tract as well as traffic impacts of Baca Grande and Crestone residents accessing multiple trailheads. A build-out analysis of the Baca Grande subdivision will be included to quantify the transportation impacts of future growth and evaluate the need for a secondary access into the subdivision. An environmental impact study will also be included to review the various road options identified through the Sonoran Institute process. Based on this accumulated information, a set of recommendations can be developed for the best routes and mitigation measures for traffic flow, speed limits, environmental concerns, buffer zones, and seasonal uses.

According to the NAT Team, the study is projected to cost from $50,000-$70,000 and is to be paid for through direct and matching funding. Primary funding is being sought through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. The Board of Saguache County Commissioners is serving as the sponsor for the grant, and has pledged $10,000 in Title III funding. The Great Sand Dunes National Park has pledged $2,000. The Crestone Spiritual Alliance is soliciting matching funds among the spiritual centers. Additional funds have been requested of the Baca Grande POA.

At this time there are no existing official public access easements for the USFS Baca Tract. Current use of the three riparian corridors —Willow Creek, Spanish Creek, and Cottonwood Creek—by locals and visitors are causing significant trespass issues for the private property owners. These Manitou Foundation lands, which are being used for spiritual retreat centers, are highly sensitive to disturbances from recreational users.

In February, NAT, representatives from various spiritual centers, and employees from the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Rio Grande National Forest met to review the process to date. Time was spent visiting several of the centers and considering the points of ongoing trespass across private lands. Federal agencies came away with a better understanding of the concerns the spiritual centers have related to increased recreational activity, and members of the spiritual centers came away with a better understanding of the limitations presented by federal land planning processes.

Currently, legal access to the Baca Mountain Tract only exists from the trailhead at South Crestone/Willow Lake, the roads in the Baca Grande subdivision, and Liberty Road. The section of Liberty Road closest to the subdivision belongs to the GSDNP. The GSDNP and the USFS have already agreed to use Liberty Road for administrative access to their respective lands. Whenever an access point along the subdivision’s south boundary is determined for the GSDNP backcountry access and parking lot, the GSDNP and the USFS will share access at that point.

Minutes of the NAT meetings can be accessed on the Saguache County website http://www.saguachecounty.net. Presentations from the Sonoran Institute public meetings are also available on that same website. Information about the RGNF Baca Mountain Tract Planning Process can be found at www.fs.fed.us/r2/riogrande/projects. If you have questions or comments regarding the transportation planning process, please direct them to Steve Haines at origin@ctelco.net.

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