Trail connection breeds contention
Raider Ridge tie-in stirs up emotions in Skyridge

A mountain biker rides through the Meadow in Horse Gulch, with Raider Ridge in the background. A controversial proposal calls for putting a 1-mile singletrack up the other side of the ridge so people can more directly access the Horse Gulch trail system from Skyridge./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Two new local groups – the Friends of Raider Ridge and Don’t Raid Our Ridge – are currently meeting head-on. A proposal for a new trail up the front side of Raider Ridge is stirring up contention in the Skyridge neighborhood. While some view the proposal as an amenity for Durango as a whole, others are calling it a physical and aesthetic threat.

When the Skyridge development was approved for construction, much of the subdivision’s backdrop was made off-limits to development. Instead, a large portion of the Raider Ridge hillside was dedicated to the city as permanent open space. Since that time, a connector trail linking Skyridge with the extensive Telegraph trail system in Horse Gulch has been discussed.

“While the Skyridge plat does not show a trail up that hillside, there was a general discussion about a trail in that area,” said Kevin Hall, Durango Parks, Open Space and Trails manager. “The city’s trail plan does show a future trail coming down in that vicinity.”

That vicinity is roughly the middle of Raider Ridge as seen looking east from Durango. The trail connection was given life in late February of this year when Skyridge residents Seth and Jody Furtney wrote Hall a letter. They encouraged the city to build a better trail from the Skyridge and Hillcrest neighborhoods to the top of Raider Ridge. As proposed the trail would be an approximately 1 mile of singletrack with spurs connecting both the north and south ends of Skyridge.

“Skyridge is a beautiful community with a beautiful ridgeline behind it, and there’s no way to get there,” Seth Furtney said of the need for a trail. “Let’s recognize the obvious and build a trail that will satisfy the needs of the residents.”

On that sentiment, the Furtneys founded the Friends of Raider Ridge. The group is dedicated to constructing what it says will be a low impact trail modeled on the section of the Telegraph Trail that climbs similar terrain in Horse Gulch.

“A lot of people are threatened by the visual impact in what is essentially a pristine area,” Seth Furtney said. “But most people look at the Telegraph Trail and agree that it’s low-impact and nearly an invisible trail that serves a lot of users.”

Furtney added that many people assume that the trail will be tractor-built and resemble a road. He countered that the plan is for a 2-foot wide singletrack. “Hand-cut trails are different,” he said. “A 2-foot wide trail is next to invisible.”

The Power Line, which runs north-south along the lower portion of the Raider Ridge hillside, currently offers the only access to Horse Gulch from Skyridge. Some residents are proposing a trail that would go up the hillside and tap into the top of the Raider Ridge Trail and the rest of the Telegraph trail system. Other residents say the trail is unnecessary and could lead to numerous problems./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

An added benefit of the new trail, according to the Furtneys, would be the elimination of two trails that they say have been bushwhacked into place. He argued that if left in place, the two bushwhacks would create serious erosion problems on the ridge. Bill Manning, executive director of local trails advocacy group Trails 2000, agreed.

“People are going to go there anyway, and we would like to see that hillside stay in good shape,” Manning said. “I believe it would be better to have a well-constructed trail than a bushwhack route.”

Manning also said that in his mind, the trail would be a good addition to Skyridge and Durango. “I think constructing a good singletrack would have great value,” he commented. “My feeling is a good trail up that hillside would be a valuable enhancement to that neighborhood, and I think it would be a benefit to the trail system as a whole.”

In addition to working with Trails 2000 to build the trail, the Friends of Raider Ridge would like to undo what they consider a major visual scarring on the same hillside. At the northern end of the ridge, an access road to a visible water tank and the area where another tank was buried are clearly visible.

“We would like to revegetate those appalling hillside scars created by the developer,” Jody Furtney said. “You can see this buried water tank from all over the Animas Valley and from as far away as Gudy’s Rest on the Colorado Trail.”

The Furtneys concluded by saying that the local trail system was the major factor that drew them to Durango and to Skyridge. “Trails individually are not that attractive,” Seth Furtney said. “Trail systems are what are valuable to a community. The Telegraph Trail system is recognized nationally because of that. This would connect another piece to the system.”

Furtney is the first to acknowledge that there are others who do not share this vision. “We respect that there are people who don’t like this trail,” he said. “But we’re trying to think about the long-term viability of the ridge.”

A recently formed, opposing group, Don’t Raid Our Ridge, takes a different view of the long-term viability of Raider Ridge. “Of course, we love biking and hiking, but we don’t feel a need for any more access to Raider Ridge than we already have,” said Jay Millward, one of 4

the group’s co-chairs. “We strongly believe that it’s not necessary to scar up Raider Ridge any more than it already is.”

In addition, Don’t Raid Our Ridge argues that the new trail would fragment wildlife habitat, increase fire danger, create rather than reduce erosion, lead to trespassing and vandalism, create increased traffic and parking problems in the neighborhood and increase noise problems.

Larry Hock, the group’s other co-chair, said that he has started polling the Skyridge neighborhood and already collected more than 75 signatures opposing the trail and only five in favor. “My neighbor is an avid mountain biker and he’s passing out petitions opposing this,” Hock said.

He added, “To this point, we’ve resisted doing anything public on this. I could fill the room with angry people if I wanted to, but I believe we have enough support that we don’t need to do that.”

Hock said that although the trail would be located behind his home, he does not view it as a NIMBY issue. He noted that the Powerline Trail already runs through his back yard and a major access to the trail parallels his front and back yards.

“This isn’t a NIMBY thing,” he said. “We’ve chosen to live next to this trail and we enjoy being next to this trail.”

Hock and Millward countered that the opposition deals with impacts that go beyond the human scale. They said that the Friends of Raider Ridge are advocating for access that already exists with the Powerline Trail providing access to the Telegraph Trail system in a less direct way. “I can already access the Telegraph trail system by going down this trail and around,” he said.

Hock also said that Don’t Raid Our Ridge does not buy into the argument that people will bushwhack up the ridge anyway. He said he has seen very little evidence of people taking the direct route to the top of the ridge. “I walk the Powerline Trail a couple times a day and on the 500 to 600 times I’ve been on the trail, I can’t remember ever seeing anyone bushwhacking up the hill. What they call bushwhack trails are game trails. There’s bushwhacking up there, but it’s being done by quadrapeds.”

To date, the Durango Parks and Forestry Advisory Board and the Durango Open Space Advisory Board have both taken preliminary looks at the proposed trail. They have also heard from both the Friends of Raider Ridge and Don’t Raid Our Ridge.

“Neither of the boards have made recommendations, and they essentially deferred to follow-up meetings,” said Hall.

The next step in the process will be a 7 p.m. community meeting June 21 at the Durango Recreation Center. Hall said that the future of the proposal rests in the community’s hands and the meeting will be open to all comers. We’re going to have that community meeting to take more public input,” he said in closing. “We’re going to notify residents in the Skyridge area, release public notices and get the community out and let them have their say on this.”






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