May 2017: Speaking of Trails: Collaboration to expand Crestone trail systems

Filed under: Living on the Earth |

 

HIkers out enjoying trails.

HIkers out enjoying trails.photo courtesy of Statepoint Media

By Jason Anderson: Saguache Cty. Commiss’r
Note: All accounts below should be considered commentary: political leanings and personal bias may be present. Accompanying trails map is purely speculative and subject to revision.

Proposed Eastern San Luis Valley trail system trails.

Proposed Eastern San Luis Valley trail system trails.

Regional partners’ existing trailheads.

Regional partners’ existing trailheads.

Trails overview map from the Trails & Open Space Master Plan.

Trails overview map from the Trails & Open Space Master Plan.

Looking back on the last 22 years as a dedicated mountain biker riding in Crestone/Baca I have to say that 1996-2008 was really the golden era. The paths were mostly unused, and the area served as my personal riding adventure. On occasion a kindred biking soul would drift through for a year or two, but the trails were pretty much mine to explore. And there were so many! Between the old ranch and mining roads long abandoned, the game trails, all the trails created by houses on the greenbelts having their individual paths to the creek, and the maze of social trails from folks exploring and walking their dogs, it made for interesting riding. But change comes, as it always does. Now the larger trails in the area see more of everything: hikers, runners, dogs (lots of dogs), horses, families, and mountain bikes. And though I reminisce for that golden era, I also enjoying the company of others and believe it is time to consider a more planned approach to our trails as both users and uses expand.
I am not so much speaking of those paths that take us into the Sangres and the wilderness area. They are well established with their rugged climbs, out-and-back nature, and commitment. More I look to the trails behind our houses, which connect one place to the next, which may run north-south, and which are frequented by a variety of users.
I have been fortunate to be involved with a working group that has been focused on this very issue. The Eastern San Luis Valley Trails Coalition is a group of officials and residents representing the different land agencies. These include the Town of Crestone, Saguache County, the Baca Wildlife Refuge, the Great Sand Dunes, BLM, Forest Service, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, and the San Luis Valley Great Outdoors Organization. We have all come together to plan a way to bring connectivity to our lands without automobiles.
Some of the trail challenges we see are merely the result of planning oversight; we have a population (Baca) that is separate from its amenities (Crestone) and only connected by a single narrow and fairly dangerous road for non-motorists. As a result we struggle to address the one-person/one-car nature of our transportation. And if you don’t drive your options are limited. We also look to addressing how to create more nature-travel experiences that are accessible as well as accommodating to a variety of uses and fitness levels. Still another issue is how do we maintain and manage the trails we have that are mostly the result of random use, with the understanding that a well-planned, durable trail is recognized as being environmentally a better option than a series of social trails permeating an area such as a greenbelt.

 

Existing bridge along a trail through town.

Existing bridge along a trail through town.

At this time there are a series of options being explored that range from a group looking at how to extend the bike lane shoulder on Camino Baca Grande out to Two Trees, to a phased plan that links the town with yet-to-be-created trail systems in the Wildlife Refuge, on to the Baca Grande, and perhaps the Great Sand Dunes National Park in the future.
The most immediate project is being proposed by the BLM to create a north-south loop of about 3 miles located above the town of Crestone (accessed from E. Galena). This project is in partnership with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado and the Eastern San Luis Valley Trails Coalition with the goal of creating a multi-use trail that has easy access to town. This project is planned to begin with a work weekend through Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (Brink Messick—brink@voc.org 719-655-6133) on May 20-21.
A master plan for tails and recreation in the San Luis Valley has been created with the intention to provide more opportunities for outdoor recreation—benefiting resident health and local economies. With improved and marked trails, visitors and residents will better be able to explore and enjoy the vast natural areas of the San Luis Valley and surrounding mountains. Visit www.slvgo.org for more information.
As part of this larger recreation and access plan, a trails and open space master plan has been prepared for the Town of Crestone and Baca region. See maps accompanying this article.
According to an article in the Denver Post, outdoor recreation in the United States brings in approximately $887 billion dollars per year.
We are blessed with a variety of lands available for our enjoyment. How we access and travel through those lands is another of the questions we will need to ask ourselves as our communities grow and change.

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