Some residents near Carbondale say mountain bikers overrunning the Crown
CARBONDALE — Some Prince Creek Road residents outside of Carbondale fear that Pitkin County Open Space and Trails is contributing to a stampede of the Crown area by mountain bikers.
The open space program wants to build some facilities to better handle the number of cyclists already traveling up Prince Creek Road to access trails on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property.
The open space plan calls for phasing in a soft-surface trail along the roughly 3 miles from Highway 133 to the dirt single-track routes on the Crown. The trail would give cyclists a safe alternative to the road.
A parking area will be added along Prince Creek Road, though the location has become a major controversy. A port-a-potty and kiosk would be added at the parking lot.
The open space board of directors held a meeting on the draft plan Tuesday and got an earful from several speakers. Sloan Shoemaker, speaking as a homeowner along Prince Creek Road, said he understands that mountain biking is well organized and a powerful lobbying force that wants enhanced facilities at the Crown network.
But beefing up facilities simply creates a “feedback loop,” Shoemaker warned. Providing better facilities to serve existing mountain bikers creates a greater demand and eventually the need for even more facilities, he said.
Think Moab. The town was a sleepy, old mining town and low-level tourist destination in the mid-1980s that has evolved into an internationally famous mountain-biking and outdoor adventure mecca. It’s overrun in spring and fall.
The Crown has reached a level of popularity where it’s a destination site, Shoemaker said. Upper-valley riders head to the Crown early in the spring and late in the fall when higher elevation trails are wet and muddy. The Crown stays drier for longer. Out-of-state cyclists visit Carbondale and specifically seek out the Crown.
“It’s no longer this little backyard secret,” Shoemaker said.
He urged the open space program to take a longer vision of how the Crown will be affected over the next few decades, including wildlife needs and cooperating with ranchers who have summer grazing allotments for their cattle.
Open space board members said taking the long view is exactly what they are trying to do through the management master plan. The draft plan is open for public comment through June 30 at the program’s website, http://www.pitkinostprojects.com.
Their effort to come up with a management plan was endorsed by Prince Creek resident and former Pitkin County Commissioner Dorothea Farris. The level of existing use dictates that Pitkin County enhance the facilities, she said, and the use will continue to grow.
“We all have a feeling of, ‘I wish there was no one else here. I wish it was just me,’” she said. But it’s merely wishful thinking, she said.
Open space officials said they must address the current parking situation because of safety. On any given weekend day in spring and fall, between 20 and 50 vehicles park in a wide spot of the road at the intersection to the access road to Prince Creek subdivision. There is no parking lot. Trail users park where there’s room along the gravel road.
Michael Manchester, president of the Prince Creek subdivision homeowners association, said his neighborhood has talked to county officials for 10 years about the need for a solution. They don’t have a problem with bikers, he said, but the helter-skelter parking scenario is unsafe for all involved, he said.
“It’s about getting people off the road,” Manchester stressed.
The draft plan proposes using property called “the Bullpen” for parking. The 5-acre site is owned by the county. It’s about a mile and a half toward Carbondale from the existing parking area. A new trail would run between the parking area and the single-track trails.
However, people who live near the site panned the Bullpen proposal. They said there are blind curves on that stretch of Prince Creek Road that will make travel more unsafe if the activity of a parking lot is added.
“They moved the problem down from one choke point to another choke point,” area resident David Amory said. “I don’t call that solving a problem. I call that creating a problem.”
He lamented that the Bureau of Land Management has already designated the Crown as a special recreation area with an emphasis on mountain biking. Pitkin County’s construction of a parking lot and access trail will accelerate the transformation of what has been a rural area.
“Pitkin County is promoting growth up Prince Creek,” Amory said.
Farris countered that Pitkin County has purchased property that helps keep Prince Creek Valley less developed.
Open space board members assured Amory and a half dozen other area residents that their voices are being heard. The diversity of comments shows “the complexity of the problem,” said open space board member Graeme Means.
“Nothing’s been decided,” added board member Tim McFlynn.
Gary Tennenbaum, open space director, said the open space board can reconsider the Prince Creek management plan after all public comments are collected. The goal was to get a final plan in place by July 18, but that isn’t a firm date, he said. The parking issue will need greater review and consideration of alternative sites, according to Tennenbaum. It’s possible the rest of the plan could progress, such as the 1.5-mile first phase of the trail, he said.