Vail Trail Extension to be removed from town’s open lands plan
VAIL — The proposed Vail Trail Extension will be removed from the town’s open lands plan after council members heard concerns from the community on Tuesday, Aug. 7.
The new trail was to be cut through the town-owned Katsos Ranch Open Space in East Vail along a route that would run parallel to the existing Gore Valley Trail, a paved path. The Vail Trail Extension was proposed as a soft-surface alternative to the Gore Valley Trail, to be used by hikers and mountain bikers.
Earlier in the day, council members, town staff and members of the community hiked through the Katsos Ranch Open Space on a user-made trail near the proposed Vail Trail Extension. On that hike, council member Kim Langmaid pointed out a boreal toad that had been flattened dead alongside the trail. That toad, which is currently listed on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s threatened and endangered list, was symbolic of the wildlife concerns expressed by those who spoke to the council.
Retired Colorado Division of Wildlife district manager Bill Heicher said mitigation requirements in the area weren’t working and had been ignored or eliminated in order to accommodate harmful land-use decisions.
“I had originally planned on coming here tonight to try and convince you folks to do the right thing for wildlife,” Heicher said. “But after thinking back over many years … maybe it’s time to eliminate their further suffering and mercifully pull the plug on their life support. In reviewing the past 40 to 50 years, it’s painfully obvious that business as usual hasn’t worked.”
Bill Andree, a former district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife who recently retired after 38 years with the state, told the council that the measures the town of Vail and other stakeholders have undertaken to mitigate wildlife impacts have turned out to be a “pretty dismal failure.”
There are several memorandum of understanding documents “that this area has been set aside to help protect deer and elk, and lo and behold, 10 or 15 years down the road, they put trails through it, they put a trailhead in, they do something that just isn’t right for wildlife,” Andree said.
That comment “slapped me up alongside the head,” said former town of Vail staffer and Vail Homeowners Association Executive Director Jim Lamont.
In the early days of Vail, “we sat in this room, in much the same conditions as we are tonight, agonizing over how we were going to protect our wildlife, guide our urban development and still be able to say that we had lived in harmony with nature,” Lamont said. “We staked a claim on the Katsos Ranch. … We find ourselves today dealing with a piece of ground that, in the visionary period of Vail, was to be the heart and soul of our demonstrations of creating a wildlife sanctuary.”
Lamont said he refused to go to his grave resigned to Heicher’s suggestion of admitting defeat.
“I think, for 40 years, we succeeded, but now our own success is overtaking us, we are tending to want to use sites beyond what the original intent and vision was,” Lamont said. “I still think that we can overcome a label of being dismal failures.”
‘IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO’
After hearing about an hour of comments from the community, longtime Vail resident Blondie Vucich asked the council if they could remove one trail — the Vail Trail Extension — from the 12 that are called for in the open lands plan.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Vucich said.
Council member Jenn Bruno responded.
“We did this process to get community input,” Bruno said. “I feel like I’ve had enough input tonight.”
Bruno asked if there were any more council members who would join her in raising their hands in favor of eliminating the Vail Trail Extension from the open lands plan. Council members Kevin Foley, Kim Langmaig, Jen Mason and Mayor Dave Chapin raised their hands.
“I didn’t always feel that way at the beginning of this process. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure I said, what a great opportunity that would be for mountain bikers’ kids to go out and have a great trail experience,’” Chapin said. “I’m in favor of the Vail Trail that currently exists as a hiking trail, but that’s another discussion for another time.”
The Vail Open Lands Plan — of which trails are just one part — will come back before council for approval at a future meeting.