Once upon a time, not so long ago, the People of the Shining Mountains maintained a (Ute) trail up the Crystal River, open to all.
The notion of private property was foreign to this valley. The Ute habitation was seasonal, leaving the entire canyon largely empty in the winter months. In 1880, this culture was displaced by our own, and federal “patents” began the process of privatizing pieces of the valley as the original Crystal Trail morphed first into the Rock Creek Wagon Road, and then into the Crystal Railroad, and finally a State Highway. Through all of this, the original routes have remained intact. Our remaining public lands, Crystal Parcel 1, Red Wind Point, Janeway, Bear Creek, and the Old McClure Pass area, ALL have remnants of the historic road that remain in use by the residents of the very private lands that have now bisected the canyon. All of this is documented in Pitkin County’s trail study and draft plan, available on pitkinostprojects.com
Seeking to exclude others while ignoring their own daily use of the Crystal Valley, some of these “owners” are now fighting the re-connection of the old Rock Creek Road, arguing that such would “fragment” wildlife habitat. This is an interesting assertion from those who privately developed the area. These folks have wrapped themselves in a report commissioned by their unlikely ally, the Wilderness Workshop, paid for by a $50,000 gift that insiders say came from Leslie Wexner. The WW report was rushed into the spotlight last spring in an apparent effort to predetermine public perspectives on wildlife and the Crystal Trail. The author, Rick Thompson, did not even attempt to account for the existing impact of private developments and the state highway along the old road. He admits this, noting that he “assumes, simplistically, that all habitat within 100m of trails is currently functional, is occupied by animals, would be exposed to recreational disturbances along trails, does not have overlapping zones of influence, etc.” See the Workshop Report at fn 27. By its own words, the WW report makes a “simplistic assumption” that all the off highway routes are virgin wilderness with no proximity to the highway or private developments, with no current visitors. The WW assumption is wrong.
When one actually takes the time to look, it becomes apparent that the off-highway alignments are in fact already impacted by human activities. On any given day, Crystal Parcel One, Red Wind Point, Janeway, Avalanche Creek, and the old McClure Switchbacks are visited by the residents of the adjacent developments. In addition to the State Highway, there are 435 residences in the Crystal Caucus area, including 100 on the east side of the river sandwiching Crystal Parcel 1, Red Wind Point, and Filoha Meadows– the area these zealots want off limits to the rest of us. In addition to the development already there, there are 585 potential new home sites in this corridor. Virtually all of the “Alignment B” areas on public lands are already impacted by neighborhood use as well as their proximity to the State Highway.
Another curious gap in the WW research is their decision to look only at information critical of seasonal closures, which ignores entirely the scientific work of Colorado Wildlife Science concerning the Rock Bottom Closure on the Rio Grande Trail. The proven success of the seasonal closures, and the existing disturbance of this route in the summer leads one to ask, would the added “fragmentation” of reconnecting the entire route with a summer only trail be significant at all? The County’s wildlife study did take the time to look at existing conditions, and concluded that summer use of the old road through of much of this public land will not have a meaningful negative impact on the wildlife we all hold so dear.
Enough is enough. Woody Guthrie would be appalled by this nonsense. These are your lands. Please speak out in favor of a trail that will reconnect these public places, making them accessible for walking and biking for our children, elderly, hikers, cyclists, and equestrians. Please attend the public meeting with the Pitkin County Commissioners in Carbondale on June 26 and tell them that you want a trail linking the public lands of the Crystal. Tell them you want these lands accessible, motor-free, by the public to whom they belong– including those who have chosen not to fragment critical winter habitats by putting their year-round homes in town, where they belong.
Free the Crystal Canyon.