Crystal Valley Trail

Wilderness Workshop commissions report on wildlife impacts of potential trail alignments

Download a copy of Rick Thompson’s report.

Download a copy of the presentation Rick Thompson gave in Redstone and Carbondale.

Building a multi-use trail up the Crystal River to the top of McClure Pass as part of the larger Carbondale-to-Crested-Butte Trail has been on Pitkin County’s “to do” list for a decade or more. Recently, the project gained more momentum when Governor Hickenlooper prioritized the trail as one of Colorado the Beautiful’s “16 in 2016” trails initiatives.

This January Pitkin County began conducting outreach, as well as environmental and engineering studies with a goal of choosing a preferred trail alignment by the end of the year. Next year, the Forest Service is planning to conduct an environmental impact statement. Trail construction could begin as early as 2019.While no final decisions have been made, preliminary discussions indicate that the several-foot-wide trail, which would be for pedestrian, bicycle, and equestrian travel only, will likely be paved or hard-packed from Carbondale to the top of McClure Pass, and will then transition to a single-track mountain bike trail from there to Crested Butte. Wilderness Workshop is most focused on the section that begins where the existing trail ends at the KOA campground, five miles upstream from Carbondale, and continues through Redstone to the top of McClure Pass.

WW is not categorically opposed to a trail up the Crystal Valley; in fact, we think it is important to expand alternative modes of transportation and provide recreational opportunities. However, central to our mission is ensuring new trails (or any form of development) on public lands avoid or minimize harm to ecosystems and wildlife.

Impacts to Wildlife
To inform our work on this issue, we hired Rick Thompson from Western Ecosystems Inc., to produce a report on the wildlife and habitat that could be impacted by potential trail sections and alignments. While important, wildlife impacts are only one of many factors that will determine if and where the trail would be built. Expense, engineering, safety, private property, and user experience are all important to consider but they are generally outside our mission and expertise. As a result, Rick’s analysis is limited to the impacts to wildlife (or lack thereof) from different trail alignments. Specifically, his study reviews the numerous past studies of wildlife habitat and trail proposals as well as management plans in the Crystal Valley. The report also includes a review of scientific literature studying the amount and degree of recreational impacts to wildlife to help the public, county, and Forest Service make informed decisions on this project. Rick’s report analyzes the mapped wildlife habitat and how different potential trail alignments would impact that use and effectiveness of that habitat.

Because no alignments have yet been chosen by the County or Forest Service, Rick’s study uses alignments from past trail studies to best estimate where a trail would be located. The specific alignments shown in this study are not necessarily the ones that will be identified or chosen by the County or Forest Service. The report evaluates the potential alignments in terms of habitat impacts and not only describes which alignments would have the least impact to wildlife but also proposes strategies to minimize, avoid or mitigate those impacts.

Working with Pitkin County
Pitkin County is also analyzing wildlife habitat. Rick’s report is not meant to supersede or refute the County’s. Rather it provides an outside review of the ecological impacts of a major infrastructure project proposed for an area with important habitat values. The purpose of the report is to provide additional information and to bring clarity to just one perspective – impacts to wildlife – of this multi-faceted and complex project.

Pitkin County has a long record of environmental protection, stewardship, and even advocacy. It manages dozens of open space parcels, many of which are critical to local wildlife populations. The Open Space and Trails department manages its properties for both recreation and wildlife and is well aware of the challenge this often entails. Our goal is to help OST get this trail right for wildlife. Last year, Open Space and Trails approved a biodiversity policy to help with exactly this type of management challenge. Central to that policy is the “[reliance] on the best available science.” In its simplest form, our purpose in commissioning a study is to make that science readily available during the planning and implementation of this project.



Aspen Times, July 11, 2017, “Group promotes wildlife-friendly trail route.”