White River National Forest map detailing Redstone to McClure Pass.

On Jan. 27, a year after receiving comments on a draft environmental assessment, the White River National Forest (WRNF) published its final environmental assessment and draft decision notice for the Redstone to McClure Pass Trail. This seven-mile section of the 83-mile Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail Plan, adopted by Pitkin County in 2018, was determined to be of “no significant impact” on its own.

From now through March 12, people who previously submitted specific written comments — or otherwise have a perspective based on new information arising after previous comment opportunities — can object to that decision which would authorize Pitkin County Open Space and Trails (PCOST) to construct and maintain a natural-surface, non-motorized, multiuse recreational trail with seasonal wildlife closures south of Hayes Falls.

The seven-mile trail would first follow “the shoulder of Highway 133 for about two miles between Redstone and Hayes Falls” then “a historic wagon road, a section of the highway and the Old McClure Pass Road for about 4.3 miles; and a new trail corridor to reach the McClure Pass summit.” Because five of the seven miles would traverse federal land, the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District was required to complete an environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“This connection is critical,” Gary Tennenbaum, director of PCOST, told The Sopris Sun at an open house hosted at the Third Street Center on Feb. 15. Not only will the trail make the area accessible for long-distance hiking, biking and equestrian use, he explained, it will connect subdivisions south of Redstone with a safe alternative to driving.

Additionally, Tennenbaum told The Sopris Sun that the areas in question have been monitored with trail cameras and see year-round human traffic. PCOST would oversee a seasonal closure south of Hayes Falls to protect wildlife, from Dec. 1 through April 30, with a forest protection officer to enforce it. The closure would be extended to June 30 if elk calving activity is identified.

As reported in the environmental assessment, two historic decommissioned roads that the trail would follow, Bears Gulch and Old McClure Pass, currently see unmanaged recreational use in all seasons. A trail camera set at the southern portion of Rock Creek Wagon Trail recorded an average of 1,245 passes per year by hikers, runners, skiers and snowshoers, 536 by dogs, 9 by bikes and 20 by equestrians. Out-and-back users were counted twice.

New infrastructure accompanying the trail would include a parking area at the base of McClure Pass, a bridge crossing Huntsman Gulch and a pedestrian underpass at Highway 133 near the summit. Dogs would not be required to be on-lease and e-bikes would be prohibited south of Hayes Falls. “Disturbed areas would be monitored for noxious weeds, and treated if needed, for at least three years following construction,” according to the document. (https://www.classicsofttrim.com/)

Following WRNF’s publication of the final environmental assessment and draft decision notice, conservation advocacy nonprofit Wilderness Workshop wrote in a press release, “Forest Services fails to holistically consider cumulative impacts of recreation,” stating, “Friday’s announcement did not result in joyful cheers around the Workshop office — instead, it was sighs of frustration…” Wilderness Workshop has pushed for an environmental impact statement that considers the full Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail, rather than any single segment.

“This is an 83-mile trail that the Forest Service has failed to comprehensively evaluate,” the press release continued. “No single trail can be held responsible for the declines in wildlife populations or other impacts — and yet collectively our trail systems and recreation uses are undeniably impactful to wildlife and ecosystems.”

One section of the environmental assessment does consider cumulative impacts, stating plainly: “the Forest Service considers the [Carbondale to Crested Butte] Trail concept to be a reasonably foreseeable future action.” As described in the plan approved by Pitkin County (www.bit.ly/CCBTplan), this would be implemented in phases “from 2018 to 2040 and beyond.”

However, according to the environmental assessment, “Pitkin County currently has no plans, studies or dedicated funding to begin implementation of any … segments north of Redstone,” and, “since no specific trail route is currently proposed, the site-specific resource impacts … are unknown at this time.”

Nonetheless, according to WRNF’s draft decision notice, “none of the actions included in the proposed action would create significant impacts alone or when considered with other actions.”

To learn more, visit www.bit.ly/RedstonetoMcClure