Horse Gulch Blog

Watchdogging for the greater Durango area

3 May 2013

Two recent Durango meetings where freeride trail proposals were discussed with officials

Posted by Adam Howell


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A slue of proposals to adopt pre-existing trails on Durango-owned open-space lands for doing maintenance and building freeride features on them was presented to the City and Trails 2000 last week by this blogger and friend Ben Bain.

Ben Bain's proposal to designate Star Wars as a directional trail was given a chance by the City.

Ben Bain’s proposal to designate Star Wars as a directional trail was given a chance by the City.

We asked for permission to adopt Star Wars in Overend Mountain Park, Medicine Trail off of Raiders Ridge or Down and Out off of Raiders Ridge. This blogger requested permission to build jumps on Raiders Ridge.

All of our requests for permission to work on these projects, however, were denied by Durango’s Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz until the conceptual freeride trail pitched by Trails 2000 gets built (preliminarily called The Scratch). Their alignment has changed after its original mapping and proposal to the City’s Natural Lands Board by a group called Durango Freeride nearly 2 ½ years ago.

“Since that time I went and got a lot of quotes and estimates from some experienced freeride builders, and so we have someone coming out to Durango and kind of looking at the alignment that we have, and Collin will be a part of that,” said Trails 2000’s Executive Director Mary Monroe. “Then we’ll set some work days, which we’re hoping will take place within the next 3 months. We’ll hope to have it constructed this summer—completed.”

It is unclear whether the general public will be involved in determining the alignment of Trails 2000’s City-approved freeride trail.

Inviting people to attend our meeting with Metz and Monroe was a step that this blogger took to help bolster the idea of including others into the planning process. After Metz set the time and place of the meeting it was publicized on this blog so that others who might be interested could attend.

Monroe questioned the act of inviting the general public to attend this meeting that involved public officials and public matters.

“From a community perspective, I would like our voices to be on the same page,” said Monroe. “An example is that this was a meeting that we thought was just between us. I did not know it was posted as a public meeting. And so I think, you know, behavior, you know the intention of our relationship and having good communication. You know, we need to have good communication and integrity in how we are working together.”

Specific to a proposal that the community would have to voice their opinion on, Bain asked if the steep and narrow Star Wars trail in Test Tracks could be designated as a directional trail for safety reasons.

“We have close to a hundred miles of trails in the Durango area, and right now not one of them is designated as user specific, or downhill specific,” said Bain. “It’s more about safety and logic. If you have somebody hiking up this trail, and he’s going around a corner, and it’s steep above there, that mountain biker is going to be going really fast. He’s not going to see that hiker. There’s a potential for a collision or a bad interaction.”

“If this was the only trail in the whole area then it wouldn’t work,” said Bain. “But there’s so many other trails for them to hike on.”

Metz gave Bain’s idea a chance, vowing to bring the idea before the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board as well as people living around Overend Mountain Park in order to gauge their opinions on it.

The pink flag line that Trails 2000 put in for a freeride trail merges with a yellow flag line that some other people put in for another proposed freeride trail.

The pink flag line that Trails 2000 put in for a freeride trail merges with a yellow flag line that was put in for another conceptual alignment of the same trail.

At the same time, Metz said that any of our freeride trail project proposals, even for preexisting trails, would be on hold, at the Board’s request, until public perception can be gauged upon completion of the one that Trails 2000 is planning on having built this summer.

“I didn’t hear from the Board that this one trail is it, no more,” said Metz. “But very clear, let’s do this one and see how it works.”

This blogger later reviewed a recording of the meeting with the Board that Metz referred to, and discovered that the Board did not agree to wait for one freeride trail to be completed before committing to any other related proposals.

This blogger asked her about it later in an email, which she sort of explained to me in a reply.

“Since the proximity of the Medicine Trail is close to Scratch, perhaps this alignment could also be evaluated during the on-site visit,” said Metz.

Meanwhile, the planning process that’s taken the City nearly 2 ½ years to get a single user-specific trail approved, but not yet built, has created a culture of illegal trail building on City-owned open space lands around Durango.

The Medicine Trail, for example, was recently worked on, according to Metz, as she pointed out on a map Thursday.

“What we’d ask is that for you not to go and build jumps on these,” said Metz. “Cause I know you guys, maybe not you personally, but I know there’s some activity that’s been happening down in here that are not sanctioned by the City.”

In response to the rogue building that’s been happening, Metz says that the City will take down any unauthorized jumps or freeride features on City land, as they’ve been doing for a while in the Overend Mountain Park.

Natural Lands Board meeting on April 1st, this blogger requests permission to adopt preexisting Medicine Trail for doing maintenance and building features

In an attempt to play by the rules and follow whatever official “process” might exist for getting permission to do trail work on City Lands, this blogger asked the Natural Lands Board for permission to adopt the non-sanctioned Medicine Trail coming off of Raiders Ridge in Horse Gulch for doing maintenance and building features on it.

A jump on the slick rock.

A jump on the slick rock.

Many Board members at that April 1st Board meeting requested that this blogger work through Trails 2000 with my proposal. This blogger requested permission to take leadership on adopting The Medicine trail outside of Trails 2000, given my experience in doing trail maintenance and construction in the past.

Questions on how the City would scope public opinion and decide whether or not to approve of a trail project were thrown around by several Board members at the meeting.

During the discussion, Board member Steve Whiteman requested that the planning and implementation process for the freeride trail-building projects be as inclusive as possible.

“I think that everyone supports the idea of getting qualified people to make sure the technical specs are there; that they’re all sustainable. But that doesn’t mean it’s just one route that fits that bill,” said Whiteman. “There’s different ways of getting down the mountain, and different riders might have different attitudes about that, or different preferences.”

Hall answered Durango Mayor and Board Member Dick White’s question as to how the process for seeking approval of a trail project on City lands would move forward.

“It’s very much similar to what we do with many projects, which is start out with the idea and you have to work it through to the fine tuning of the final product,” said Hall. “Many times in the past it will start with somebody drawing a line on the map, and then there’s general buy in, and then there’s a walking of the corridor and typically staff participates in that. Trails 2000 over the last hand full of years has been bringing in an environmental specialist to walk the corridor and make sure we haven’t bumped into anything that we shouldn’t bump in to. And then it becomes a formal trail-building process, which then we tend to defer to the experts on that. There’s plenty of standards on that. I’m certainly familiar with those standards. Trails 2000 and a lot of other folks in this community are very familiar with trail design standards. What Adam is speaking about is a little bit of a different type of trail. But there’s also trail standards for those types of things. But the process is such that we wouldn’t ask the Board to decide whether a rock is here or here, but we would certainly be very much a part of the determination of where the alignment is, and making sure it meets environmental standards, making sure it meets the standards for the type of trail that it’s going to be. There’s some degree of staff judgment on that call, and if there’s anything outside of the box—not so ordinary, we might bring it back to the Boards for discussion again.”

Board member Mark Smith’s first concern was having illegal trail builders held accountable, although he expressed a desire to incorporate them with Trails 2000’s projects in order to keep them out of trouble.

“There’s some frustration apparently about not being able to get the trails built, and they’re getting built anyway,” said Smith. “I think that’s really the issue. How do we deal with that? You’ve got people that are coming in asking if they can do these kinds of things, and if they don’t get the answer they want, they or someone else is building them anyway.”

“You can discuss being inclusive, and that’s great,” said Smith. “But at some point, there ought to be some consequences for trails that are being built illegally.”

Hall admitted that it would be difficult to hold illegal trail builders accountable.

Photograph by Eirik White

From the left, Kevin Hall, Durango’s Assistant Community Development Director, sits with Trails 2000’s Executive Director Mary Monroe and former County Manager Shawn Nau at a meeting at Fort Lewis College. Photograph by Eirik White.

“Short of catching somebody with a pick ax or a piece of equipment in their hand on public property, it is very difficult to really pursue any kind of consequences for the individuals that are doing it,” said Hall.

Smith reiterated his problem with rogue trail builders.

“We don’t want to send out the message that it’s ok to do it,” said Smith. “So how does Trails 2000 incorporate these groups successfully? How do we make sure that happens, because it doesn’t seem to be working very well.”

In response to this blogger asking whether it was fair that one trail-building organization be given a monopoly over all trail building projects in our region, Smith compared trail building to the installation of general infrastructure in Durango.

“It might be the same answer as why can’t you have two or three different entities deciding where the streets go, or the telephone poles,” said Smith. “I’m not trying to be sarcastic.”

“There has to be some organization, otherwise you just get everything,” said Smith. “I think the City is trying to bring the groups together so they can make a decision as one group, instead of competing with each other.”

Near the end of the discussion, Hall and Board Member Kim Fluty requested that this blogger coordinate with Trails 2000 and anyone else that would be interested in helping out with the project. Hall advised me that the next step would be to walk the alignment with the interested stakeholders.

“That’s going to have to happen, with everyone who’s participating in it, you walk it,” said Hall. “You obviously don’t want a hundred chefs in the kitchen, but you do need to have the primary advocates for this thing participating in the conversation and making some general determinations on alignment. And then how it gets established and what kind of changes occur to the landscape on that alignment is another level of discussion that has to happen. Again, not everyone is going to decide on everything. But we’ve done enough projects over the years that you have to do consensus building to get to an outcome. We can’t just have one person say that it’s got to be this way, whether it’s Trails 2000 or somebody else. We need to work together to come up with a solution. It’s one trail on a hillside full of slick rock and stone, I mean we can figure this out.”

Cathy Metz requested that I schedule a time for all of us to talk about the proposal in a working meeting with staff at her office. This offer precipitated the meeting with Metz, Monroe, Bain and I, where requests were made for designating Star Wars as directional and doing maintenance and building features on preexisting trails.

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