Eagle nixes proposed multi-use trail | VailDaily.com

Eagle nixes proposed multi-use trail

Special to the DailyThe proposed Hernage Creek multi-use trail is shown in yellow.

EAGLE, Colorado – Members of the Eagle Planning and Zoning Commission rejected a proposed multi-use trail in the Hernage Creek area Tuesday night with several members weighing in with the opinion that there isn’t a demonstrated need for the extension.

The Hardscrabble Trail Coalition’s proposal called for a new multi-use trail 2.65 miles long and that could be accessed at the second cattle guard located on Third Gulch. The proposal called for the trail to end at Hernage Creek Road. The Hernage Creek area is part of Eagle’s open space lands and pedestrians are allowed to hike through the area. But unlike other open space holdings in town, the Eagle Travel Management Plan – which is part of the town’s comprehensive master plan – sets aside the area as pedestrian-only access.

Since the Hardscrabble Trail Coalition proposed the trail extension last month, members have characterized it as an important link for the town’s trail system to access both town open space and U.S. Bureau of Land Management property.

“Discover New Terrain (the town’s marketing slogan) – that’s exactly what we are proposing to you,” said Adam Palmer, HTC representative.

But opponents of the plan – many of which live in the Hernage Creek area – argued the area is important wildlife habitat and that they purchased property with the understanding that the gulch area would be preserved with pedestrian-only access.

Palmer said Hardscrabble Trail Coalition is sensitive to the wildlife issues and would recommend the same seasonal closures that are instituted on other Eagle open space parcels.

Recommended Stories For You

“I think everyone agrees this is winter habitat and we want to protect that,” he said.

“If this were indeed a real wildlife area, it should be a wildlife protection area and closed off to everyone,” Palmer said. “At the end of the day, we see this as a responsible access to public land.

“We see this more or less as a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) issue.”

Homeowner’s response

Neal Arney, speaking on behalf of a group called the Town of Eagle Open Space Protection Coalition, countered with the argument that Hernage Gulch has been set aside as a wildlife protection area and should remain as such.

“We are not willing to compromise the impact this trail will have on wildlife. We believe this should be the first priority,” said Arney.

Arney also said the Eagle Ranch developers and sales agents assured potential buyers that recreation trails would not be developed in the area.

“Purchasers were told this area was going to be maintained as pristine open space, foot traffic only.”

Arney argued that the homeowners and the coalition members believe that they have a legally defensive position to block the trail.

“We are not a proponent of litigation. We are not here to threaten litigation. But we believe that litigation is unavoidable if this trail goes forward,” he said.

Wildlife advocates

“I have one question. Why is it OK for hikers with dogs to be in that area but not a bicycle on a single track?” asked resident Ted Gould.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife representative Craig Wescoatt noted that hikers do have impact in the area.

“The best case for wildlife would be to have nothing there,” he said.

However, Wescoatt noted that when the Eagle Ranch trails system was being developed, the entities involved in the plan agreed that pedestrian-only access in Hernage was acceptable. “We will honor that agreement,” he said.

However, Wescoatt said extending the use to include bikes or horses would undermine wildlife protection.

“We are not trying to stop the trail. We are asking you to look at alternatives where impact to wildlife would be less impactful,” said Wescoatt.

He noted the current trail alignment includes a lot of ridgeline layout and movement corridor crossings. He said a better trail design would camouflage the path and eliminate loops that would be an extra impact to animals.

“The current design puts the trail in areas that are not really good for wildlife,” said Wescoatt.

“There is no argument that trails bring economic benefit to the town of Eagle,” he added. ‘But we can’t ignore wildlife as a huge economic contributor to the town and this county.”

Bill Heicher, former Colorado Parks and Wildlife wildlife management officer and former Eagle open space coordinator, said he has spent hundreds of hours advocating for wildlife in the Eagle area. He noted that five professional wildlife biologists have recommended no mechanized trails in Hernage Gulch.

“These are the professionals saying don’t do this. I don’t understand why we are still here,” said Heicher. “Where is the need for this trail that we are talking about tonight?”

Commission decision

In their deliberations of the issue, members of the planning commission echoed that sentiment and discounted the idea that the town does not have the legal right to amend the travel management plan and approve the trail.

“I do not see a compelling need to create a multi-use trail here,” said commission member Frances Rolater.

“We all like to enjoy the town’s open space,” said member Donna Spinelli.

However, she noted that the current proposal was not vetted by the various stakeholders including Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management and the Hernage Creek residents.

“This has been so divisive and controversial. I just think we need to go back and get a trail that is approved by everyone,” said Spinelli.

“I do believe there is a need for this,” said commission chair Kevin Brubeck. “But I don’t know that this trail needs to be where it is.”

After discussion regarding actual motion language, five commission members – Brubeck, Rolater, Spinelli, Melanie Richmond and Jason Cowles – voted to deny the trail. Member Melissa Baum voted against the motion to deny and member Jim Ash abstained, saying he wanted to see actual contract documents and representations made to Hernage Creek buyers prior to a vote. Ash proposed delaying action for two weeks.

With the Planning and Zoning Commission denial, the trail proposal dies. If the commission had approved the plan, it would have been forwarded to the Eagle Town Board for final action.