Trail system looks to the future
Trails 2000 works to blend singletrack and growth

A sign marks the Carbon Junction trailhead off Highway 3, south of Durango. Trails 2000 is working to ensure that Carbon Junction, as well as the other trails within the Horse Gulch-Telegraph system, are preserved in the face of encroaching development./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

With growth on the horizon, Trails 2000, Durango’s trails advocacy group, is working to ensure that new trails are incorporated into developments and existing trails do not fall prey to expansion.

Of particular concern is the popular Telegraph trail system, immediately south and east of town. More than 30 miles of trails make up the network, which lies on a mix of public and private land. However, adjacent land is slated for everything from homes and golf courses to a new hospital and city reservoir, all of which could potentially alter the trails and the surrounding landscape.

Perhaps the most high profile area of development is Grandview, southeast of the trail system. The area will become home to the Southern Ute Tribe’s Three Springs subdivision, 2,200 homes on 682 acres; and the new Mercy Medical Center campus, on 35 acres, among other things.

Bill Manning, executive director of Trails 2000, said the group has worked to ensure that the new homes will have access to the Telegraph system, and ultimately, Durango.

“We worked very hard with developers and the city to get trail access points and trails integrated,” said Manning. “We worked hard for the neighborhoods to have access to trails and the BLM area referred to as Grandview Ridge, the Cowboy Trail and South Rim Trail.”

Plans also call for a trail around the new hospital.

“We’ve gotten Mercy to agree to a little loop trail, a walking path for patients, visitors and staff to get a breath of fresh air,” he said.

In addition to this, Manning said the group is working in tandem with several other entities on the Smart 160 Trail, which ultimately will connect Durango and Bayfield.

“It will be an urban style path similar to the Animas River Trail,” he said.

The trail is still in the conceptual stage, with most of the effort being focused on connecting the Animas River Trail to Grandview.

“We’re focusing on the first couple of miles,” he said.

The trail will generally parallel Highway 160, and right now various alignments are being explored by a consortium made up of the City of Durango, La Plata County, the Colorado Department of Transportation and utility companies. One solution would use utility lines as the basis for the trail. Once the trenches are dug and the lines buried, the trail would be placed on top.

“That’s done all over the U.S.,” said Manning. “Those utility connections work well for a trail as well.”

While all this may bode well for trail users, there remains one unknown which could have a profound effect on the Grandview Ridge trails. In order to alleviate traffic on an already congested Highway 160, the idea of a new bypass that would connect Durango to Grandview, possibly via Highway 3, is being explored. Although an exact alignment has not been determined, the road would cross Bureau of Land Management land that is home to several trails.

A biker descends Horse Gulch Road on Monday. Much of the land surrounding the county road is private property and the idea of developing it has been talked about for years although nothing formal has been done./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Manning said he has only seen rough, conceptual drawings of where the road would go, but judging by the area’s topography, there really are only a few options.

“Where is the road likely to go? There’s probably about three choices,” he said. “I would guess it’ll affect Carbon Junction, maybe Sidewinder. It would affect Grandview Ridge and Cowboy.”

However, Manning maintains that the trails will not be a total loss.

“We want to make sure that trails are accommodated in any new road development,” he said. “I hope we can get some safe crossings and maybe some underpasses in the event the road becomes real.”

He said that the fact that the road would cross BLM land could actually help preserve the trails.

“The BLM is big on the concept of multi use,” he said.

Manning also said the negotiations over rerouting the Carbon Junction Trail are ongoing. Durango Gravel is looking to expand operations and mine the area at the top end of the trail. Trails 2000, La Plata County and Oakridge Energy, the company that owns much of the land 4 in Horse Gulch and the lease to Durango Gravel, have been looking for a solution for more than a year. The Carbon Junction trail hooks in with Crite’s Connect and Sidewinder at its north end and dumps out at the south end of Highway 3. Manning said there are discussions to move the top of the trail in a canyon to the east.

“We thought we’d do it last summer,” he said. “But, until all parties get their acts together, we won’t be doing anything. Stay tuned.”

Over Grandview Ridge and to the northwest is the Horse Gulch part of the trail system, which sits mostly on private property once owned by Noel Pautsky. Manning said Pautsky permanently deeded ownership of the Horse Gulch trails to the county when he passed away. However, the Pautsky family, which still owns the land as well as Oakridge Energy, has the right to relocate the trails.

“The trail surface, 12 feet wide, is actually owned by the county,” said Manning. “Beyond that, the corridor is owned by the Oakridge Energy company.”

Pautsky’s daughter, Sandra Pautsky, has proposed a major development on Ewing Mesa, 1,495 acres of land adjacent to Highway 3. A conceptual plan for the development, called Oakridge, calls for up to 1,700 homes as well as a 27-hole golf course and resort, schools, and businesses on 1,110 acres.

“The land south of the (Horse Gulch) meadow is owned by Oakridge Energy, which has been talking for years about a large-scale development with one or more golf courses,” said Manning.

Although nothing formal on the Oakridge development has been submitted to the city, in January, Durango City Council adopted the Ewing Mesa Area Plan, which calls for up to 3,000 homes in the area.

City Planner Greg Hoch said initial conceptual plans for the Oakridge development showed “spill over” into the lower reaches of Horse Gulch that could lead to one or two trails being rerouted. However, he said the plan indicates how and where these trails would be relocated.

“Basically, it’s just a shift in the location,” he said.

Manning said if and when the Oakridge project goes through, the effects would likely be a mixed bag.

“If you asked me if the trails would be affected by Ewing Mesa, I would say ‘yes’ and ‘no,’” he said. “‘Yes,’ because there will be more people on the trails. ‘No’ because most of what we we’ve acquired was given to the public by Noel Pautsky. We carefully aligned the trails where they could be permanent.”

Another potential development that could affect the meadow trails is a future city reservoir, which would go in the natural basin that acts as the starting off point for several trails.

“The city bought the land in the event they needed to build a reservoir,” said Manning. Whether the land is ever used for such a purpose depends largely on whether the city buys into the Animas-La Plata Project.

“Our position is we’re waiting to see,” said Hoch

The land also is a former dump site, which would require extensive clean up before a reservoir could go in, Manning said. Nevertheless, he was confident the city and Trails 2000 could reach an agreement should the reservoir ever be built.

“We have a loose agreement in place to route trails around the reservoir,” he said.

Another potential player in the future of the Horse Gulch Trail System is Fort Lewis College, which owns land north of County Road 237, or Horse Gulch Road, in the Raider Ridge vicinity.

“FLC owns a lot of land up there,” said Manning.

However, Dave Eppich, assistant to the president for external affairs, said he is aware of no plan to do anything with the land.

“In terms of development, I don’t think there’s been any plan to develop that property,” he said.

Regardless of what the future holds, Manning said he was confident that Trails 2000, with the strong support of the community, would continue to work to protect one of its most important assets.

“I sure hope our community can rally and save the portions of Horse Gulch and keep it undeveloped,” he said. “Whenever I go up there, I see people happy as can be that they have a place to be. It’s kind of heart warming.”






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