Vail Town Council approves new open lands plan, updating the 1994 plan | VailDaily.com

Vail Town Council approves new open lands plan, updating the 1994 plan

Trail use and development is an integral part of an update to the Vail Open Lands Plan. The Vail Town Council approved an update to the plan at its meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 16

VAIL — It took two years, and 16 public meetings, but the Vail Town Council has updated its open lands plan.

The council on Tuesday, Oct. 16, voted unanimously to approve the plan, with only a couple of small additions. But after a number of often-contentious meetings, public reaction to the plan was largely favorable.

Vail resident Anne Essen attended many of the meetings about the plan and praised the council and staff for the final product.

"I'm as thrilled as you must be that you're at this point," Essen said.

Bill Andree, a now-retired Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer who provided input on the plan, also thanked the council and staff for creating the plan.

The need to update the plan was driven home in 2016, when a number of community members were sharply split over a preliminary plan to upgrade the Vail Trail, a narrow path that runs from roughly Golden Peak to the Vail Golf Club.

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That dispute led town officials to update the original Vail Open Lands Plan, which had originally been approved in 1994.

The updates were sometimes the result of nearly 25 years of changes in Vail's built and unbuilt environments. Sometimes, other changes spurred revisions.

A comprehensive look

The updated plan looks at all of the town-owned and privately held, unbuilt property in the town's boundaries. It's not particularly surprising that the open land left would be difficult, at best, for building.

Private land planner Tom Braun, who worked for the town on the plan update, noted that there are currently four privately held parcels that have potential community uses. All are relatively small, and none could have the impact of the roughly 2.5-acre parcel that now holds the Chamonix townhomes neighborhood.

Braun said one of the dramatic changes between the current plan and the original is how it addresses town trails.

There's no mention in the plan of any future improvements to the Vail Trail. The plan also identifies 11 potential new trails and lays out a process for both studying new trails and understanding potential environmental impacts.

In the wake of a January seminar, impacts to wildlife generated a lot of interest from residents, council members and staff.

In his remarks to the council, Andree talked about the steep declines in local wildlife populations — one herd of elk has dwindled from more than 1,000 animals to fewer than 200.

Fragmenting habitat

Andree said a significant part of the decline is due not just to loss of habitat, but the fragmentation of habitat because of human impacts, including trails.

Council member Kim Langmaid noted that people need to be more responsible in how they use the backcountry. Part of the plan is a recommendation for education and a code of conduct for backcountry users.

That code needs to have the central message of "if you want to live here with elk, this is what you have to do," Langmaid said.

Council member Greg Moffet voted to approve the plan, but cautioned council members about some potential unintended consequences.

"I'm worried that in our search for balance we're running off beginner hiking and biking trails," he said. "We're potentially missing an opportunity to improve the quality of life."

Cutting trails could have the unintended effect of fewer people using the backcountry, ultimately diluting support for continued preservation efforts.

But, Langmaid noted, it's possible that some of the Vail area's most popular trails may ultimately see the same kind of management — user limits — that will be imposed next year on the Hanging Lake trail in Glenwood Canyon.

Langmaid said over-use can be resolved through management, while still keeping the backcountry open.

"It doesn't have to be one or the other," she said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com.

Four facts

• The plan is an update of the original 1994 plan.

• Four private parcels have the potential for public uses.

• The plan identified 11 potential new trails.

• The plan eliminated consideration of upgrading the Vail Trail.