Proposed access change Second Gulch Trail in Eagle for side-by-side vehicles stirs up locals
With major trail reroute and restoration projects slotted for later this year in the Hardscrabble area located between Eagle and Gypsum, discussions of modifying motor vehicle access arose at the Feb. 27 Eagle Town Council meeting.
Members shared concerns over a proposed trail maintenance project that would provide a singular side-by-side offroad access point in Eagle by increasing current 50-inch restrictions to 72 inches.
Last year, the town worked with the Bureau of Land Management to enforce the pre-existing 50-inch width restriction on the Second Gulch trail, according to Eagle Open Space and Recreation manager Brian Lieberman. Lieberman said that the change was made because despite the restriction, vehicles wider than 50 inches were accessing Second Gulch and had caused damage to the infrastructure on the trail.
Within the 50 inches, smaller recreational motor vehicles, like dirt bikes, have access to the trail. However, newer models of ATVs are around 72 inches wide and aren’t permitted through the restriction.
“The Open Space and Recreation Advisory Committee collected public comments and talked about this issue at a number their meetings this summer,” Lieberman said. “They made a recommendation at council that we consider increasing the size of the motorized width limit to 72 inches.”
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Because of concerns that street-legal motor vehicles might try to access the trail should the 50-inch width restriction rise to 72 inches, Lieberman said that, should the change be implemented, additional signage and intentional management would be considered.
Lieberman said the Eagle Open Space and Recreation Advisory Committee recommended a 72-inch trail width restriction because it would be consistent with the size of newer motorized recreational technology.
“Specifically, (the Open Space and Recreation Advisory Committee) were looking at this as the only trail that permits that motorized access from the town of Eagle,” Lieberman said. “Otherwise, you have to trailer your machine over to Spring Creek in Gypsum or all the way to the top of Hardscrabble Road.”
While the access would be intended to specifically benefit Eagle residents with wider recreational vehicles, Lieberman said he doesn’t yet have good data on how many people live in Eagle and own these machines.
Lieberman also said he doesn’t expect the widening of the trail to attract a substantial number of non-locals.
“I just don’t think it’s a super appealing location for out-of-towners, especially when there’s areas like Gypsum that have significantly more opportunities,” he said.
Dan Lambert is one local resident who is in support of the increase in vehicle width allowance and said he brought the access issue up to the Open Space and Recreation Committee. He said as a user of his side-by-side, it is disappointing for him to not have trail access in town.
“I’m a wildlife proponent as well as a hiker, a cyclist and a side-by-side is just one of those things I have,” Lambert said. “I use it for utility, I use it for enjoyment. Looking at the whole Elevate Eagle and having the equitable access for all user groups, I think is important. I think that’s something that needs to exist.”
In his presentation, Lieberman proposed a trial period for side-by-side access to the trail, which might allow trail managers to get an idea of how usage would look if permanently approved.
But concerns arose from community members — especially those who live close to Second Gulch — regarding traffic, noise, safety, erosion and wildlife.
Among the residents of the neighborhood near the Second Gulch Trail voicing concerns about the proposed trail widening was Lee Markel, who lives on Fourth of July Road.
“I’m concerned with (more) people going by my house every day throughout the day and at the very evening driving these vehicles — even if they’re driving at a reasonable pace — and making a lot of noise,” Markel said.
David Christian, who also lives on Fourth of July Road, said he is worried about reckless users of offroad vehicles not only on the trail but on streets heading to access it.
“I’ve almost been hit, a motorcycle was speeding down Fourth of July after dusk with no headlight,’ Christian said.
Christian also noted that with increased access for motorized use at Second Gulch, irresponsible trail users may take liberties on other nearby trails. Last year, he said he saw motorized recreators coming down Third Gulch, a trail closed to motorized use, which they accessed from Second Gulch.
Eagle resident Brett Hooper also lives close to Second Gulch. He said side-by-sides have been explosively popular, and with that popularity, access would mean more users (including out-of-towners) than Eagle trails have seen before.
“I would hate to somehow have this be a gateway to attract out-of-town users of ATVs and side-by-sides and razors,” Hooper said.
Hooper said he thinks starting up a trial period of side-by-side access to the trail could open up a “Pandora’s box.”
“People get used to it, they discover access, or somebody starts a rental business,” Hooper said.
From a safety standpoint, residents said they are concerned about potential dangers associated with increased motorized use and wider vehicles on the trail.
“I see families walking up that trailhead all the time, walking with their dogs,” Merkel said. “I’m concerned with an ATV coming down around that corner and you know, not being able to stop.”
Smaller motorized vehicles like dirt bikes currently use the trail and have the ability to pass other recreators on the side. In a wider motorized vehicle traveling faster than non-motorized recreations, passing easily becomes far more difficult.
Eagle resident Weston Arbogast said that he shares the concern about larger vehicles on the trail. Arbogast said that he uses his highway-legal dirt bike to recreate in the area of the Second Gulch Trail, but agreed that side by sides pose a risk to other recreators on the trail.
“I’ve been up Hardscrabble Road a few times and I believe there was a gentleman who was struck by a side-by-side up there last year or two years ago, and it put him in a wheelchair for his life,” Arbogast said.
Hooper said those who recreate on motorized vehicles may not always be doing so responsibly, which could introduce even more safety concerns.
“I was walking a puppy and my 8-year-old daughter a couple of years ago during the pandemic and there was what clearly looked like an out-of-towner on a razor on the bike path drinking and aggressively driving,” Hooper said. “That’s the last thing I want to picture, opening that door to that kind of recreational use.”
Like most other trails in Eagle, ensuring wildlife remains protected is of major concern to residents. Hooper said that amid talk of protecting elk and their critical winter habitat, he thinks it is important to recognize the precedence of the summer habitat as well.
“If these people head up into the High Country, especially with noisy vehicles, it’s going to disturb the elk higher up. I think that’s also something to be concerned about,” Hooper said.
Erosion was another major concern for residents opposing the 72-inch access. Eagle resident Selena Alden said that recreators already kick up dust and displace soils on foot. However, with increased motorized use, she said increased erosion would be imminent.
“It’s going to eventually all come down into the watershed because there’s a lot of loose, dusty soil,” Alden said.
Given the volume of concerns regarding the proposed trail widening project, more input will be collected on trail access widths and potential rules for motorized use in the area before Lieberman returns to the Town Council for a potential motion on the topic.