This blogger’s comments on the Draft Horse Gulch Open Space Management Plan

Dear Natural Lands Preservation Advisory Board,

Wildland firefighter Brian Del Santo lays down fire in a pinon/ juniper fuel type in Texas.

Wildland firefighter Brian Del Santo lays down fire in a pinon/ juniper fuel type in Texas.

My comments on the Draft Horse Gulch Open Space Management Plan are directed specifically towards number four under the specific management policies (V., page 3) in the document.

Among the uses and activities that the Draft Plan prohibits on the property are fires of any kind, which, for a rural landscape, brings the question as to which kinds of fires are specifically prohibited.

If the Draft Plan is talking about the prohibition of campfires in order to prevent fire rings and the harvesting of firewood, that is one reason behind the land management policy.

If the prohibition also includes prescribed fires or naturally started fires for resource benefit, then what is the logic behind such a short-sighted, broad-encompassing fire management policy?

We know from historical perspective that the policy of excluding and suppressing all wildfires on rural landscapes can lead to the build up of volatile fuel loading that when later ignited, can be difficult to control and have severe impacts to both the forest ecosystem, as well as local communities.

Fire can be used to safely reduce fuel loading in Horse Gulch through the practices of either broadcast burning—laying fire broadly underneath live oak or timber stands—or through pile burning, which fire managers often do after piling up the slash in to manageable piles from hand thinning an area with chainsaws and letting it cure for several weeks.

Afterwards, fire managers will wait for the right weather conditions to light the piles, such as a few inches of snowfall, where the risk of fire carrying through ground fuels outside of the slash piles is minimal.

Most recently in our community, the BLM completed a successful pile burning project on Animas City Mountain using these same tactics.

If hand thinning followed by pile burning is used as a means to controlling fuel loading, the weeds would need to soon after be suppressed on those pile burn scars, due to the increased susceptibility of exotic thistles taking root there.

This fire for resource benefit provided a valuable service of reducing the fuel loading in this mixed conifer forest.

This fire for resource benefit provided a valuable service of reducing the fuel loading in this mixed conifer forest.

Speaking subjectively from the past 10 years of fire management experience, the post effect of using broadcast burning as a means of controlling fuel loading in Horse Gulch could be more aesthetically pleasing than mechanical treatments for such a highly-trafficked area. I think that lands treated with fire usually look better immediately following the treatment than those done with hydro axes or masticators, which tend to leave broken branches hung up in trees, excessive soil disturbances from the tires or tracks on the masticator, and frayed scrub oak stubs sticking out of the ground.

Mastication is the process of using heavy mobile machinery to basically grind up brush and trees into mulch while simultaneously spreading it across the landscape violently.

We also know that wildfire has the ability to introduce nitrogen back into the soil more quickly than mastication, while also increasing the pH there, thus increasing the availability of calcium in the soil as a means of improving its fertility.

Plus, the anticipation of fungus being able to quickly utilize and brake down activity fuels following mastication treatments was disproven by research technicians at Northern Arizona University.

Humans have suppressed fire on this landscape quite possibly for about the past 100 years, with little benefit to the long-term ecological health of Horse Gulch. While humans with their surrounding structures and properties may have benefited from the suppression of wildfires on this landscape, the exact opposite effect can be seen for the health of wildlife, vegetation and soils that exist there.

For example, allowing a controlled or naturally started wildfire to punch a mosaic of holes in the pinon/juniper forest canopy can increase edge habitat for wildlife by providing sunny openings for native grasses and wild flowers to grow, thus increasing the biodiversity across the landscape.

In summary, I think that the policy of prohibiting fires of any kind, as stated in the Draft Plan, should be eliminated or at least changed to only prohibit campfires.

Thank You,

Adam Howell

Horse Gulch Blog LLC

Photo essay: scenes from Ashland, Oregon and the United Bicycle Institute

This blogger and a few buddies pause for a break on a winter mountain bike ride near the Ashland Watershed Area. We rode Alice and Wonderland and BTI. Tons of jumps, gaps, banking turns and crushed granite to ride on.

This blogger and a few buddies pause for a break on a winter mountain bike ride near the Ashland Creek Watershed area. We rode Alice and Wonderland and BTI. Tons of jumps, gaps, banking turns and crushed granite to ride on.

Here's a dirt jump park by the Greenway bike path in Ashland, Oregon. Too muddy to ride on this day.

Here’s a dirt jump park by the Greenway bike path in Ashland, Oregon. Too muddy to ride on this day.

Ashland dirt jump park.

Ashland dirt jump park.

The Ashland High School has this covered double-decker bike rack that fits 24 bikes.

The Ashland High School has this covered double-decker bike rack that fits 24 bikes.

This covered bike rack was at the YMCA in Ashland, OR.

This covered bike rack was at the YMCA in Ashland, OR.

This was the covered bike rack outside of the Cycle Hostel in Ashland, Oregon.

This was the covered bike rack outside of the Cycle Hostel in Ashland, Oregon.

Rich Arvizo, a United Bicycle Institute instructor, teaches an advanced seminar on suspension technician certification.

Rich Arvizo, a United Bicycle Institute instructor, teaches an advanced seminar on suspension technician certification.

Students work on bikes at the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, Oregon.

Students work on bikes at the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, Oregon.

This blogger test rode this Wind Runner 48-volt lithium ion battery-powered electric bike in Ashland Oregon. It has a top speed of around 20 to 25 miles per hour. It's a pedal-assisted bike, meaning that you could pedal whenever you wanted if you did not want to run the motor.Photo courtesy of Jerry Solomon of Ashland Electric Bikes.

This blogger test rode this Wind Runner 48-volt lithium ion battery-powered electric bike in Ashland Oregon. It has a top speed of around 20 to 25 miles per hour. It’s a pedal-assisted bike, meaning that you could pedal whenever you wanted if you did not want to run the motor.
Photo courtesy of Jerry Solomon of Ashland Electric Bikes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natural Lands Board gives warm reception to freeride trail proposal in Horse Gulch

A progressive gravity-trail project similar to one that was proposed to the City in 2010 by a group of Durango freeriders was given a warm reception when offered up again by Trails 2000 at a joint Natural Lands/Parks and Recreation Board meeting last Monday.


Video by Jerry Hazard showing a freeride trail in the vicinity of the one that Trails 2000 wants freeriders to help them build.

It remains unclear as to why or even if the project proposed by the Durango freeriders remained unauthorized over the past two years due to conflicting information between the City and one of the freeriders, but either way, a pre-existing freeride trail in the general vicinity was built illegally.

“There are some trails being built that have not been approved,” said Trails 2000’s Executive Director Mary Monroe. “So we’re trying to address that by building them sustainably and legally, and going through this process so that people know where they can go and how they can do it.”

Monroe highlighted the point that for this proposal and all of the trails that they build, they strive to standardize them with sustainable erosion control features so that they can be maintained on an annual basis instead of on a monthly basis.

“So this is a specific user-built trail,” she said. “We feel we found a good alignment. Again, I did walk this with Alpine Bike Parks several years ago. We flagged an alignment. But we went back and reflagged it.”

Monroe said that Trails 2000 was looking at constructing it this Spring with the help of local freeriders who want to get involved.

Trails 2000 picked up on the planning of this 6/10-of-a-mile trail where the last group left off.

This was a map of the alignment that Mary Monroe of Trails 2000 presented to the joint Natural Lands/Parks and Recreation Board meeting last Monday.

This was a map of the alignment (in red) that Mary Monroe of Trails 2000 presented to the joint Natural Lands/Parks and Recreation Board meeting last Monday.

“We were seeking out areas where there were a lot of boulders and slick rock and coal tailings that are already in existence,” said Trails 2000’s Executive Director Mary Monroe. “We want to utilize what’s already there, so by running the alignment in that area, it reduces the impact on the trail because it’s already rocky.”

Monroe told the Board that the trail alignment she presented would require less maintenance than a cross country trail, mainly because much of it would run across rocky terrain.

To be fair, part of the alignment that Monroe presented was scouted out, GPS’d, mapped out and initially presented to the Board by Walker Thompson, Dusty Bender, Colin Shadell and Lindi Martin of the Gravity Council freeride group at the December 13, 2010 Natural Lands Board meeting, according to Thompson and minutes taken at the meeting.

While the trail that Monroe presented starts at the cement pad on Raider Ridge, the one that Walker and Durango Freeride walked started further down the ridge. They both eventually merged with each other about halfway down.

The trail alignment that they proposed was on the southeastern facing slope of Raider Ridge in Horse Gulch, just before the meadow.

This Google Earth map of the proposed freeride trail coming off of Raider Ridge into Horse Gulch was created by Walker Thompson after him and some buddies scouted it out with an Android GPS back in 2010.

This Google Earth map of the proposed freeride trail coming off of Raider Ridge into Horse Gulch was created by Walker Thompson after him and some buddies scouted it out with an Android GPS back in 2010.

“We called it ‘The Scratch,’” said Thompson last December. “That was going to be the name of this trail.”

“We had multiple people walk it with us. There were thoughts of this progressing. And it kind of got shut down,” said Thompson.

“We got shut down but also these other ideas came about like Log Chutes,” he said.

“We were like, ok we’ll calm down in the hopes of in a year, roughly speaking, we see progress,” said Thompson. “So that’s long past, right. At this point, I’d say the collective group is like ‘who cares,’ because we’re not getting our needs met.”

Natural Lands Board member Cathy Metz, also Durango’s Director of Parks and Recreation, had a conflicting interpretation of the Board’s reception to the initial proposal, saying that the Board was generally receptive to the concept of exploring options. Board minutes from the 2010 meeting also say that “several Board members showed support to explore creating progressive trails for this fast growing sport.”

Minutes from the 2010 meeting also said that “The Board expressed concern about how the City would handle the liability of a facility like this and were informed by Director Metz that it would be similar to the skate park at Schneider Park in Durango.”

While getting authorization from the Board to build progressive freeride trails may be difficult for many people outside of Trails 2000, others are continuing to naturally develop their own lines anyways, said Thompson.

“It’s nothing we’re doing, it’s just like a natural progression,” said Thompson. “I see it on the trails every day. I see people bringing shovels, they’re clipping the inside line. It’s happening, right. And the City or trail builders can’t stop that progression.”

“That’s kind of what’s led to, I guess, our frustration and where we are today,” he said.

Frustration aside, at the Natural Lands Board meeting in December of 2010, Gravity Council communicated that building progressive trails for this sport could create a positive effect on the Durango economy, due to the event potential of this huge spectator sport. They also said that freeriding requires technical rocky features, and that they would like to see such progressive trails for all levels, even beginners, according to the minutes.

While Metz said that the Board invited Walker to the joint Board meeting last Monday, Walker denied that any invitation was given.

Minutes from the 2010 meeting also indicate that Gravity Council had been meeting with Monroe about working together to create progressive trails in Durango. The map of Monroe’s trail alignment roughly puts it in the same alignment that Thompson had GPS’d and imported onto a Google Earth map in 2010, with the exception to differences in the pieces at the top, which Trails 2000 started from the cement pad further up the ridge, and the bottom where it ties into Horse Gulch Road (CR 237).

It is unclear if Gravity Council had presented their GPS’d Google Earth map of the proposed alignment for the trail to the Board at their December 2010 meeting.

The map of Monroe’s proposed alignment was posted on the wall at the Board’s last meeting. Monroe and her partner Travis Brown talked to the Board about what freeriding is and how the terrain in the trail alignment would be suitable.

“There’s already that kind of terrain there and people are using that trail, or the trails that are already there for that use. And there’s a growing demand in this area for those types of trails,” said Monroe. “It’s popular all over the world. It’s called freeriding. It’s different than the Chapman Hill Bike Park area because that’s more of a skills area.”

“This is something where there’s jumps and rocks and specifically built for that use,” said Monroe.

Freeriding, more specifically defined by Wikipedia, is the discipline of mountain biking closely related to downhill cycling and dirt jumping focused on tricks, style, and technical trail features. It is now recognized as one of the most popular disciplines within mountain biking.

Chapman Hill Bike Park is slated to have structures built with man-made materials brought in from outside the area, according to Kevin Hall, the City’s Natural Lands, Trails and Sustainability Director. Whereas this proposed freeride trail would only utilize natural materials found on site similar to how the Lunch Loop freeride trail was built on BLM land in Grand Junction.

Board members at the joint Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and Natural Lands Preservation Advisory Board meeting last Monday acknowledged that plenty of freeriders around Durango have been itching to build sanctioned trails in Horse Gulch.

“The volunteer labor of the guys swinging the pulaskis and the pick axes and maybe some heavy lifting to the extent that the users would be pretty excited about building those things,” said Hall.

Keeping freeriders involved in the progression of their sport was a reason that Travis Brown gave for promoting this latest freeride trail project.

“I’m hopeful that it’s going to accomplish that, and that’ll give that user group ownership and help to make them feel like they’re stewards of the trail network,” said Brown. “And right now it’s little bit of a struggle in not having the things that are challenging enough for people that fancy themselves freeriders.”

Provide comments on Draft Horse Gulch Open Space Management Plan

img_1048If you have something to say about the way that you think Durango’s Horse Gulch open space should be managed, you should know that the City is accepting comments on the Horse Gulch Open Space Management Plan up until January 31, 2013. Please read the City’s press release below that was posted on their website today:

The City of Durango is seeking comments from the public on the Horse Gulch Open Space Management Plan. The draft Management Plan provides a framework for the sound stewardship of the Horse Gulch open space area and is available for review on the City’s website at durangogov.org and by clicking on Hot Topics.

Horse Gulch is part of a large open space and recreational area that includes public lands owned by the City of Durango, La Plata County, and the Bureau of Land Management. This entire landscape encompasses more than 3,600 acres and includes the Telegraph, Raider Ridge and Horse Gulch Trail System – an approximately 60-mile natural surface single track trail network used exclusively for non-motorized recreation.

Public comments on the draft Management Plan are encouraged and should be submitted in writing by email to rec@durangogov.org by January 31, 2013. For additional information, please contact Durango Parks and Recreation Department at 375-7321.

Forest Service EA process for Log Chutes on snow delay

The Log Chutes Downhill Mountain Bike Trail Project Environmental Assessment process is on hold until the snow melts.

Jed Botsford, the Recreation Staff Officer for the Columbine Ranger District on the San Juan National Forest recently answered the question as to when the Forest Service will be done with the Environmental Assessment for the Log Chutes Downhill Mountain Bike Trail Project.

The Log Chutes Downhill Mountain Bike Project was first pitched to the Forest Service in 2010 as a proposal to legally sanction the first downhill/freeride specific trail on the San Juan National Forest. If approved by the Forest Service, the trail will be constructed near the existing alignment of Log Chutes Downhill Trail and might utilize sections of what’s already there.

Botsford’s response was as follows:

“The next step that needs to happen is that the Archeological clearance  needs to be done,” said Botsford. “This will not occur until the end of winter when the snow comes off the ground.  Once the Arche clearance is done this information will be incorporated into the draft EA and then released to the public for a 30 day comment period. After the 30 day comment period the FS will incorporate the public comments and release the final EA.  When the Final is released there is a 45-day appeal period.  If there are no appeals then the EA can be signed and construction can begin.”