|Perin’s Peak State Wildlife Area,
seen here Tuesday, has become the center of a local debate
over extending the Colorado Trail into Durango. The Division
of Wildlife, which manages the area, rejected a letter from
La Plata County proposing a land swap that would put the
trail extension along the wildlife area’s edge.
Efforts to extend the Colorado Trail into
downtown Durango have suffered a major defeat. Last week, the
Colorado Division of Wildlife soundly rejected attempts to orchestrate
a land swap and bring the trail along the edge of the Perins
Peak State Wildlife Area and into town.
Fully linked-up in the mid-’80s, the Colorado Trail traverses
nearly 500 miles on its winding route from Denver to Durango.
Remarkably, the trail stays within national forest the entire
way, crosses six wilderness areas and rarely even emerges onto
jeep road. However, the trail ends 3.5 miles from Durango along
Junction Creek Road. Safety concerns and aesthetics have pushed
several local agencies, including Trails 2000, a trails advocacy
group, and La Plata County, to advocate a solution to the Colorado
A little recent history
While unsure of the best answer, Trails 2000 has looked into
several options and favored rerouting the trail along the edge
of the Perins Peak State Wildlife Area and down into the Durango
Mountain Park, where a larger trailhead and parking lot would
be created atop the former county dumpsite. An additional spur
to bring the trail down to the Ninth Street bridge also would
have been created. La Plata County also has backed this solution,
and negotiations to extend the trail courtesy of a land ex-change
were undertaken by the county, Colorado Division of Wildlife,
Forest Ser-vice and Bureau of Land Management.
The land swap would have transferred the eastern fringe of
the wildlife area to Forest Service hands and opened the way
for the trail. The impetus for this exchange came from La Plata
County’s claim of ownership over the “old wagon
road,” also known as Dry Gulch Road. Extending from the
Rock Ridge development, the road cuts a straight line through
the wildlife area. The county forwarded a letter to the Division
of Wildlife emphasizing its ownership of the road and suggesting
trading this right-of-way through for a trail on the wildlife
A no-frills rejection
However, the land exchange went up in smoke last week, when
Russell George, director of the Division of Wildlife, penned
a letter to La Plata County commissioners rejecting a land swap.
George wrote, “After extensive consideration and discussions,
neither moving the current trailhead nor extending the trail
through the wildlife area will solve the many difficulties and
problems posed by the current trail and trailhead.”
George cited numerous reasons for his decision including: the
need to maintain wildlife habitat as Durango grows; significant
public opposition to the exchange; and continuing safety issues
on Junction Creek Road and at the terminus of the Colorado Trail
regardless of a trail extension.
Tony Gurzick, DOW area wildlife manager, elaborated on George’s
“Rerouting the trailhead doesn’t appear like it’ll
help safety issues on Junction Creek Road, and the current county
study is showing that as well,” he said.
A study commissioned by La Plata County and conducted by Sugnet
Environmental was recently released and found that the best
solution to problems on Junction Creek Road would be an expansion
of the road.
Naming other reasons for George’s decision, Gurzick added,
“The importance of that wildlife area continues to increase
as Durango continues to grow. And there’s not overwhelming
support for a land trade,” he said.
the name of habitat
In 1971, the 10,000-acre Perins Peak State Wildlife Area was
bought and set aside for species including peregrine falcons,
deer, elk, bears, bobcats and songbirds. Although it is open
to hunters, the area is closed to all human travel November
through July to facilitate pristine wintering grounds. Despite
its proximity to Durango, the area is considered prime low-elevation
habitat. The most vocal opponents of extending the Colorado
Trail into Durango maintained that it would fragment this habitat,
and they forwarded a stance of “no compromise.”
Mike Zgainer, of the Coalition to Save Perins Peak, said his
group applauds George’s decision. “The Division
of Wildlife’s mission is to preserve, protect and manage
wildlife,” he said. “They’ve done what they
have to do, and we’re pleased with the decision, and we’re
pleased with the community support. I don’t think the
division realized that there’s this much support for habitat.”
Zgainer was actually the area wildlife manager prior to Gurzick,
and he also emphasized that the area was bought as wildlife
habitat, a goal that a trail might impact. The coalition has
stated that the trail would bring as many as 30,000 people a
year through the area and would cut through habitat and displace
wildlife even along its edge “It’s close to town,
and Perins is very important habitat,” Zgainer said. “It’s
what it was purchased for, and it should remain that way.”
A community solution
Trails 2000 Executive Director Bill Manning said he was disappointed
in George’s decision but has hopes that the community
could continue to work toward solving problems associated with
the current location of the Colorado Trail.
“I’m still hopeful that we can find some good community
solution for the Colorado Trail, both for people who want it
extended into town and for the safety issues related to where
the trail currently ends,” Manning said.
Relative to safety on Junction Creek Road, Manning said he
was excited about the county study and the prospects for widening
to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. “I’m upbeat
about the county’s study and the possibility that we may
someday soon see a safety enhancement along that portion of
the roadway,” he said.
As for a potential other route for getting the Colorado Trail
into Durango, Manning replied: “I don’t know yet.
Several alternatives have been studied over the years and this
DOW finding probably affects one or more of the possible extensions
of the trail into town.”
However, he added that the ball is in the community’s
“Hopefully, the community will continue to come together
to solve these issues,” he said. “Trails 2000 will
continue to look at options, and we’re hopeful that we
might find an acceptable route someday.”
Retrench and figure it out
A final solution may not have to wait for “someday”
if La Plata County presses its claim over ownership over Dry
Gulch Road with a lawsuit. Although no decisions have been made
to move in that direction, Commissioner Bob Lieb said it is
a distinct possibility. “One can assume that it’s
always a possibility,” he said.
Lieb added that DOW bought the land for the Perins Peak State
Wildlife Area and, in doing so, bought property split by a public
right-of-way. “They bought a piece of property with a
county road going through it, and they refuse to address the
fact that they made a mistake,” Lieb said.
Gurzick responded that while it was not raised in George’s
decision, the division maintains ownership of the Perins Peak
State Wildlife Area.
“That was not a component of the decision,” said
George. “According to the attorney general’s office,
the DOW continues to work on the assumption that the county
has no valid right of way there.”
Zgainer said he thinks it would be unfortunate to push a lawsuit.
“They may press for access, and it will have to go to
litigation,” he said. “That’s a decision that
the county’s got to make. If they want to spend a half
million taxpayer dollars, that’s their decision.”
However, Lieb said that he was disappointed that the Division
of Wildlife had pulled the rug out from under a joint effort
to negotiate a settlement.
“I’m a little sad they indicated that they were
going to try to resolve this issue with a land exchange, and
now they’ve changed their minds,” he said.
Lieb concluded that the county will have to do some serious
thinking on the future of the Colorado Trail and Dry Gulch Road
“I guess we’ll have to retrench and figure out
what our next tactic is going to be,” Lieb said.