Remove Vail Trail Extension from consideration in Open Lands Plan (letter)
July 31, 2018
Vail has recently been named the first mountain resort in the world to achieve certification as a sustainable destination. This truly is a significant designation, and while impressive, it carries with it the burden of accountability. The timing is also important.
The town of Vail is currently in the final phase of updating the 1994 Open Lands Plan. One component of that plan will be the consideration of new trail development.
The most contentious trail "idea" remains the Vail Trail Extension, which would be a soft-surface mountain bike trail paralleling the existing paved Vail Recreation Path through the Katsos Ranch property. The Katsos parcel is described in the Open Lands Plan as "arguably Vail's most renowned open space parcel. The land includes wetlands, Gore Creek and associated floodplain and riparian habitat."
This parcel is also home to boreal toads and a pair of nesting peregrine falcons. It is winter, summer and transitional range for elk, which has suffered a 50 percent reduction in population over the past 10 years, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Somber warnings have been issued by our local wildlife professional of 37 years, Bill Andree. He has stated that any further disturbance to this area will cause further fragmentation of habitat and degradation to the herds.
Mr. Andree was asked by the town of Vail in 2017 to prepare a study of "The State of Wildlife in the Gore Valley," and it might be wise for all parties to heed his advice in this document:
"It is becoming increasingly apparent to wildlife and land managers that human disturbance to wildlife in the form of recreation is taking its toll on wildlife and on habitat by reducing functionality. Examples of these within the Gore Valley are the request for additional hiking and biking trails from Spraddle Creek to Booth Creek and the Vail Trail Expansion on the south side of Gore Creek."
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A parallel trail will only bisect already sensitive habitat and create further fragmentation. Furthermore, if existing social trails are deemed to also be contributing to the problem, they should be closed. All recreational user groups must comply.
The town of Vail states that any new trail idea will be subject to wildlife analysis and review, but this is not the case for the Vail Trail Extension. It lies almost entirely on town of Vail-owned land and will only require a Conditional Use Permit from the town. The 500 feet on U.S. Forest Service land will simply be re-routed so as not to subject it to Forest Service scrutiny or review.
The town of Vail has ignored the advice of Colorado Parks and Wildlife regarding this trail, so why should we believe they will consult them in the future?
As we move forward with accepting recognition as the first sustainable mountain resort in the world, it might be wise to review all the criteria that were considered in the application, not the least of which is:
"The protection of natural sites, habitats, species and ecosystems is effectively addressed and enforced. Tourism is respectful to nature and wildlife and supportive to its protection."
The Vail Town Council will face some far-reaching decisions on trails in the Open Lands Plan Update on Tuesday, Aug. 7, at 6 p.m. in Council Chambers. Concerned citizens should make their voices heard. Remove the Vail Trail Extension from consideration.