Singletrack trail development is one step closer to reality following the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) release this week of a final decision for routes in the vicinity of Signal Peak, northeast of Gunnison.
The BLM early this year released a “preferred alternative” for trails in the area after receiving feedback from a wide range of stakeholders — from wildlife advocates to mountain bikers. The final decision reflects the preferred alternative almost exactly — with the exception of one trail, “Lost Sheep,” that was mapped to connect existing double-track routes south of Lost Canyon Road.
The trail was removed from the decision document amid wildlife concerns and due to the steep terrain in which it would be located. In the end, the plan reflects approval for 20.6 miles of new singletrack trails on top of the 7.7 miles of current trails in the area.
“The decision we arrived at gives more protection to big game and sage grouse than exists currently, and it authorizes about 20 miles of singletrack trail that didn’t exist previously,” said BLM Gunnison Field Manager Elijah Waters, who signed the decision document Wednesday. “In my opinion, it’s a good example of multiple use.”
‘We’ve come up with a fair compromise’
Under the decision, closures will be expanded to protect wildlife — including a proposed “area closure” for all users at the west end of the system from March 15-May 15 to protect Gunnison Sage-grouse. Mountain biking will be barred throughout the system from Jan. 1-April 30, coinciding with a seasonal closure on shed antler collection enacted earlier this year.
The proposal for a new, nonmotorized singletrack trail system on the 13,000-acre swath of land in the vicinity of Signal Peak sparked controversy last year when BLM accepted comments on its proposed action. Even early this year following revisions, neither recreationists nor wildlife advocates were completely satisfied with the BLM’s plan.
“At the end of the day, we’ve come up with a fair compromise,” said BLM recreation planner Jim Lovelace. “Nobody got everything that they wanted, but we’ve got a trail system that will serve this community for a long time.”
For decades, various recreationists have used the Signal Peak-area trails — many of them old wildlife and cattle routes or rudimentary roads first used for mineral exploration. In 2006, the Signal Peak system was one of three pitched by singletrack advocacy group Gunnison Trails. The system was given the go-ahead in the 2010 Gunnison Basin Travel Management Plan.
However, exact location of the routes was not determined. Subsequently, the envisioned trail system was reflected in BLM planning documents which sought to protect the Gunnison Sage-grouse — by diverting recreation toward areas adjacent to the City of Gunnison to help protect outlying populations of the bird from future harm.
In 2014, Gunnison Trails received $45,000 through the Colorado State Recreation Trails Grant Program to produce a plan for the Signal Peak trails. In the years that followed, the group produced a master plan for the area — containing 45 miles of trails. BLM’s decision document for the system contains less than half that number of new miles.
“Gunnison Trails is excited to see this final decision for the Signal Peak trails system, and we look forward to the work ahead developing an incredible and valuable community asset,” said Gunnison Trails Executive Director Tim Kugler in a prepared statement.
The plan for construction
A group called Gunnison Wildlife Association (GWA) was most vocal last year in opposing the Signal Peak trails plan. They cited concerns over wintering mule deer, loss of year-round habitat and impacts to grouse among their reasons. GWA collected more than 500 signatures from people opposing the Signal Peak system.
“Through many collaborative efforts with the managing agencies and other stakeholders, GWA was able to help put together a compromise that initially led to the preferred alternative, and for the most part, now seems to have become the final decision in the process,” the group said in a statement. “Ultimately the GWA is confident that our efforts and perspective have been considered and have resulted in some safeguards and restrictions to protect the wildlife and their habitat in the Signal Peak area.”
The BLM’s decision approves identified routes, but it doesn’t give Gunnison Trails carte blanche to begin building trails immediately. Rather, recreation planner Lovelace explained that construction will follow an “annual build plan.”
This year, that includes realignment of the existing Chicken Scratch trail and construction of a route connecting another existing trail, Music Rocks, to the east side of Signal Peak. He also noted that new trail construction is prevented annually from May 15-July 15 to protect migratory birds.
“We’re looking at new trail construction beginning toward the end of the summer on some of these key routes,” Lovelace said.
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)