Lead King Loop stakeholders gathered on Feb. 16 at the Marble Community Church. Courtesy photo

The Lead King Loop (LKL) may just be the next frontier for a collaborative public land management plan. With many diverse interests, cohesion has been elusive to date. At the close of the year, converging interest groups agreed to come together with the intent to form comprehensive suggestions to hand over to the three decision making entities (the U.S. Forest Service, Gunnison County and the town of Marble) for consideration when the time comes. 

Western Colorado University’s Center for Public Lands (CPL) is tasked with rounding up the stakeholders, hashing out differences and finding common ground. This effort resulted in the formation of the current LKL stakeholder group. 

In recent years, the LKL working group, formed in 2018, met regularly to address increased off-highway-vehicle (OHV) traffic on the route, seeking amicable solutions. However, the duty proved quite difficult. 

“I look at the LKL stakeholder group as a reformation of the LKL Committee [working group], with many of the same entities, organizations, governments, etcetera represented,” explained Forest Service District Ranger Kevin Warner,  “but with clearer goals and objectives.” 

According to a CPL press release, “The town of Marble and surrounding public lands … have been experiencing socio-economic and environmental pressures due to the high amount of use by those traveling to the Crystal Mill on the 13-mile rough, unmaintained road of the LKL.” It continues, “The town of Marble is a gateway community that contains approximately 120 year-round residents and is the main entry to the loop which attracts up to 17,000 visitors in the summer each year.” 

Warner clarified that most of that summer traffic goes as far as the Crystal Mill and turns around; not completing the 13-mile loop. 

Thus far, CPL has organized a public listening session, which had a hybrid turnout between Zoom and in-person attendance, in December 2021, and two stakeholder meetings, the latest of which occurred on Feb. 16. The next stakeholder meeting is scheduled for April 7-8. 

“At this point, we are asking the public to communicate with the representatives of the stakeholder group rather than fully attending the stakeholder meetings,” explained Melanie Armstrong (no relation to Sopris Sun columnist and CVEPA President John Armstrong) with CPL. “That’s mostly because the format of the stakeholder meetings is designed to engage those representatives in the very difficult process of making decisions for recommendations.” 

A list of the stakeholder representatives is available on CPL’s webpage dedicated to this effort (www.bit.ly/leadkingloop). A public survey is also available on the website. The stakeholder group will pull responses to the survey at the next meeting in April, so it’s necessary that those interested in participating complete the survey by March 28. Another public listening session will be announced in the coming weeks (keep an eye out in The Sopris Sun calendar). 

At its first meeting, the stakeholder group came up with a list of objectives it hopes to achieve. Armstrong summarized each for The Sopris Sun. “The first is to, in a collaborative space, create a shared vision for the management of the LKL; second, explore stakeholder perspectives regarding recreation use and options to manage recreation use in the interim and long-term; and third, provide consensus-based recommendations that have high potential for exceptional recreation opportunities while mitigating impacts to the community and the environment.” 

“The hope is by gathering input and perspectives from the community through these representative stakeholders,” began Armstrong, “we can begin to understand the most community supported options and put those in front of those who are actually making the decision.” 

Armstrong commended the efforts made by the working group and said that the current process is building off the work that group already started. She noted the work of Corinne Truesdell, a former Western Colorado University graduate student who spent two summers collecting data and public opinion and synthesized that information into a “convening report” presented to the working group in 2021. Truesdell’s report can be found at www.bit.ly/conveningreport 

“This process is designed to build upon all of that and really move toward making some community-backed recommendations,” said Armstrong. Recommendations “that these convening entities can take and know the community supports.” 

Armstrong stated her belief that the decision makers’ investment in CPL’s facilitated process “comes from a place of really wanting to take action.” 

CPL has undergone similar efforts in the past. “We play a role in facilitating a range of interaction and engagement on public land” issues, explained Armstrong. CPL has worked on the Taylor Park Vegetation Management Project and conducted meetings in Ouray, similar to those we’re seeing in regard to the LKL, about management of the Blue Lake Wilderness Area.