Residents in the Town of Crested Butte are “fired up” and ready to fight a plan to alter access to popular trails that are, more or less, in their front yards.
“We’ve already had issues of people driving at unimaginable speeds, people changing their clothes in front of our houses, sleeping in their cars,” said Teocalli Avenue resident Chelsea Dalporto-McDowell. “My main concern here is the health and safety of our full-time residents and their families.”
Dalporto-McDowell. is among the Crested Butte residents rallying to maintain the east side of town’s longstanding trail networks in the face of a proposal brought by the owners of the Verzuh Ranch parcel to Town Council.
Pitched by part-time residents Wynn and Ryan Martens, the plan would eliminate public access on McCormick Ranch Road. The road has allowed pedestrian and cyclist access to Tony’s Trail since 2000.
The Martens propose installing a new trail along the Slate River starting at the east end of Teocalli Avenue in the Paradise Park subdivision. They would also eliminate a boardwalk trail that crosses the eastern side of the Verzuh Ranch parcel.
While the Martens point to increased recreational use and impacts to wetlands and wildlife on their 40-acre parcel, town residents near the proposed changes argue that funneling more recreational users into their area would push the neighborhood past the brink.
If Town Council does not approve their plan, the Martens threaten to close McCormick Ranch Road to cyclists, pedestrians and other recreational users from May 1 through July 10.
The Times on Tuesday asked the Martens for their response to concerns from Crested Butte residents living near the Verzuh Ranch parcel. The Martens replied by email, “We asked Mel Yemma with the Town to connect with you regarding the town's outreach, education and public comment plans.”
Dalporto-McDowell, who lives across the street from the Rec Path and Verzuh Ranch, said the impacts of increased use have already harmed the character of the neighborhood. Dalporto-McDowell and her neighbors say increased traffic, noise pollution and trash accompany the crush of recreational users in the Upper East Side, as the Paradise Park subdivision is called. There are frequently near-misses between cars driven by tourists and children who live in the neighborhood, Dalporto-McDowell said.
Town broke ground on the subdivision last year. It’s among the most recent housing developments aimed at increasing homeownership among local workers and at making rents more affordable. The subdivision includes 27 units, 10 of which were allocated for local workers in the valley.
The subdivision, home to members of town staff, public works employees, firefighters and teachers is one of most densely populated neighborhoods in the Town of Crested Butte both because most buildings are multi-family and because residents live there year-round.
“Most of us have not even had the chance to live in this neighborhood for even a year and now it’s a trailhead?” said Dalporto-McDowell. "I personally would have never purchased this property if I knew it would be a trailhead.”
The Martens bought the 40-acre Verzuh Ranch parcel and an adjacent residential lot on Belleview Avenue in 2015. Their primary residence is Boulder, Colo.
Public access on McCormick Ranch road began in 2000 by way of the Verzuh Ranch Annexation Agreement. The annexation brought within town limits the land now owned by the Martens as well as most of the residential blocks east of Eighth Street.
The agreement also allowed for access to Tony’s Trail from McCormick Ranch Road, to portions of the Slate River and to a section of the Rec Path encompassing the bridge and nordic trails.
“I’m definitely against this,” said Trevor Main, who built his home at 14 Tenth Street three years ago. “I was the first to build down here, and I’ve watched the use and the traffic grow exponentially.”
The congregation of recreational users ranging from hikers to bikers and paddle boarders has been non-stop this season, said Main.
“The proposed closure of McCormick to make this the new point of access is just crazy,” said Main.
For Main, the configuration in the Town of Crested Butte already makes sense. He pointed to existing public access found at all four corners of the town, whether it be access to the Rec Path on the east end, trails leading to Peanut Lake and Lower Loop from the northwest, or routes leading to Kebler Pass at the west end of town.
The McCormick Ranch Road is another point of access that’s needed to continue balance throughout the community, said Main.
Main said his neighborhood should be treated differently by town planners because it’s unlike any other in Crested Butte. The Paradise Park subdivision is one of the few neighborhoods where folks reside year-round, unlike other areas that may also see impacts from recreationists.
Both Main and Dalporto-McDowell agreed that any emphasis on planning should start with full-time residents rather than second-homeowners who spend only a portion of their time in the Gunnison Valley.
“We live here day in and day out, every day of the year,” said Main.
While Dalporto-McDowell has long been an advocate of organizations such as the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association and the Crested Butte Land Trust, she said she’s not swayed by what she deems buzzwords like "sustainability" and "regeneration" described in the proposal as it stands.
“What about sustainable living?” said Dalporto-McDowell. “What does a sustainable community look like?”
Main, despite being disillusioned by outreach to town leaders, said the odds are stacked against full-time residents like him.
“The sad fact of the matter is they have more money and lawyers — that’s why we’re even looking at this,” said Main. “But taking one point of access and putting it on another side of town that’s already way more congested is not only irresponsible, it’s selfish.”
In that vein, Dalporto-McDowell hopes to see part-time residents share the burden that tourism brings.
“This goes deeper than the trail. It’s about how we manage tourism in our towns and in our neighborhoods,” said Dalporto. “If you want to be a part of the community, share the burden.”
(Kate Gienapp can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or email@example.com.)