Hardscrabble trails under review and set for improvement
Alongside the Hardscrabble Trails Coalition and the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance, Eagle’s Open Space and Recreation Advisory Committee is gearing up to propose major improvements to Eagle Trails within the Bureau of Land Management Hardscrabble Special Recreation Management Area.
Eagle Open Space and Recreation Advisory Committee chair Ernest Saeger said after snow melts and seasonal closures lift this spring, environmental surveys will be conducted on trails within the area to determine possible impacts of changes to the trails that were proposed to the Bureau of Land Management.
Also, Saeger said Eagle Open Space and Recreation Advisory Committee, the Hardscrabble Trails Coalition and the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance are seeking community feedback on proposed changes to Hardscrabble trails.
“We hope, in a perfect world, if there’s no significant objections and environmental teams don’t find anything too detrimental to any of these projects, that the idea is for this to be approved for changes or denied by the end of July,” Saeger said.
Project managers sought as much feedback as possible from citizens to stakeholders to trail users to wildlife advocates. With the feedback and through the town of Eagle Open Space and Trail Master Plan, the proposal submitted to the Bureau of Land Management pending environmental review was able to come to fruition.
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Within the Eagle Open Space and Trail Master Plan, a high priority is placed on taking care of the trails already in existence.
So, Saeger said with the proposed Hardscrabble trails improvements, there is only one new trail planned, called “Good Bit.” This trail is meant to be a user-friendly, single-track connection from the road to the start of Boneyard.
Otherwise, improvements being made will reroute already existing trails, reallocate motorized use and establish single-track connections between trails.
Other major priorities of the Hardscrabble trails improvements will be decommissioning illegal trails, creating information hubs at trail connections and performing trail maintenance on existing and still well-functioning trails. Finally, improving habitat and watershed health through trail changes is another major priority within this project.
Should the proposals be approved in July, Saeger said the projects will be “shovel ready” at that point.
Saeger said the majority of the trail maintenance work will be completed through volunteer events with the Hardscrabble Trails Coalition, and through work done by Eagle’s trail conservation crew.
One trail pending heavy improvements is the Dirt Surfer Trail. Saeger said the management of this trail is a bit more complicated than other Hardscrabble trails because Eagle County Open Space manages the Brush Creek Valley Ranch and Open Space.
Currently, the trail is open to motorized use, but Eagle County Open Space concerns, as well as several worries over soil quality, are prompting discussions of rerouting Dirt Surfer.
“It’s a very unstable trail that is eroding significantly and getting worse and worse and wider and wider every year,” Saeger said. “The soils are really dry.”
So, in consideration of cutting off the trail to motorized use, Saeger said project managers reached out to Rocky Mountain Sport Riders for input. He reported that the motocross group was fine with motorized use disappearing in the Dirt Surfer area.
Additionally, the erosion of the original Dirt Surfer trail is set to be addressed with a reroute. By bringing the trail into a more sustainable alignment, Saeger said Dirt Surfer’s character would be maintained throughout the reroute, just in a position with better soil and better tree cover.
For Dirt Surfer to assume its new position, however, the current illegal trail known as Burn After Riding will be decommissioned.
Saeger said the decommissioning of no-longer-useable and illegal trails will be conducted by the Bureau of Land Management during its environmental review process this spring.
“It’s really just distributing, throwing down, some seed (and) trying to get it to take,” Saeger said of the trail decommissioning process.
Other illegal routes that face decommissioning this spring include trails near Eagle Ranch that are in an area of “critical environmental concern,” Saeger said. The popular Water Tower Trail is among these.
“We have proposed closing those (trails) down,” Saeger said. “The Bureau of Land Management definitely wants those closed, and there is a legal route just up the way from those that (the BLM) would much rather see people use.”
Another area that is likely to see changes after environmental review by the Bureau of Land Management is the Third Gulch Trail, which is set for rerouting.
“If you’ve seen it over the years, it’s become wider; it’s become double, triple track,” Saeger said.
On top of the Third Gulch Trail widening, it’s morphed into an unsuitable alignment, Saeger explained. Now closer to the creek, trail runoff can more easily affect the delicate watershed. Should the environmental surveys determine the reroute appropriate for the site, Saeger said the trail would move to be away from the creek side and further away from the watershed.
Saeger said that a reroute of Third Gulch Trail would also better user experience as far as having an actual single-track trail again.
At the farther-out, nonmotorized Dead Cow Trail, Saeger said the proposal outlined approving the trail for motorized use.
“Currently, it’s probably used more by motorized than non-motorized (recreators),” Saeger said.
By opening Dead Cow to motorized use, Saeger said the trail can also connect to below trail, Mike’s Night Out.
On the Mike’s Night Out Trail, a proposed reroute would decommission part of the trail in favor of a more sustainable and accessible route. Additionally, Saeger said the steep section toward the bottom of Mike’s Night Out — from Abrams Creek toward Spring Creek Road — will be gated and closed.
“It’s not going to be decommissioned because there’s still need to have access for utility reasons there,” Saeger said. “Abrams Creek is the drinking water supply for Gypsum and there are a number of illegal trails in there that crosses the creek over to Dead Cow.”
By closing the trail, user access will be limited to Abrams Creek. Not only would this benefit the water supply, but also a native fish that occupies the creek — the state fish, greenback cutthroat trout.
“Colorado Parks and Wildlife was very excited to hear about that part of the project for that reason alone,” Saeger said.
Per the closure, Mike’s Night Out’s lower portion would be rerouted into an area known as The Shire or Cow Camp. At that point, Saeger said a trail user would have connections to “basically the rest of the system in West Eagle.” This connectivity would provide an anticipated boost in trail enjoyability that project coordinators are excited about.
Increasing connectivity further, Saeger said the proposal outlined a single-track connection between Abrams Gulch and another popular biking trail, World’s Greatest. However, the plan details gating off motorized use aside from management and rancher access at World’s Greatest in alignment with current BLM restrictions.
Saeger presented the trail maintenance project proposal submitted to the Bureau of Land Management to Eagle town council on Feb. 14. In response to concerns about emergency service accessibility to the area with reroutes, gating and decommissioning, Saeger said plenty of access for emergency vehicles will be available.
As the Bureau of Land Management anticipates field sustainability reviews, Saeger said the project managers will also collect public comment on the project for a broader understanding of impacts. He said the public comment opportunity will likely appear in March.
With the current amount of feedback, Eagle Open Space and Recreation Advisory Committee, the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance, the Hardscrabble Trails Coalition and the Bureau of Land Management are seeking, Saeger said he and other project leads hope its execution is as successful as possible.