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The County protected 136 acres of new open space and conducted unprecedented avalanche debris cleanup
SUMMMIT COUNTY – 2019 proved to be a productive and exciting year for the Summit County Open Space and Trails Department, now in its 23rd year of operation. Summit County protected an additional 136 acres of open space, acquired several key trail easements and contended with an historic avalanche cycle that buried a section of the Summit County Recpath in debris piles more than 20 feet deep.
"We faced some highly unusual challenges in 2019 in the Open Space & Trails arena," County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. "Nevertheless, we had some great victories for natural resource conservation, outdoor recreation and river restoration."
Summit County acquired five backcountry mining claims in the Snake River Basin, ensuring the area retains its undeveloped character and iconic mountain scenery. Jointly with the Town of Breckenridge, the County purchased about 65 acres of land on the front side of Baldy Mountain, protecting the scenic backdrop to the town and public access to a wealth of outdoor recreational opportunities.
In June, Summit County worked jointly with the Town of Silverthorne and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps to build a new 1.5-mile trail between Silverthorne and the neighborhoods of Wildernest and Mesa Cortina. The trail provides an important link for residents to reach the Eagles Nest and Salt Lick trail systems and was a long-envisioned goal for Summit County and Silverthorne.
In the same vicinity, the County completed a forest health and hazardous fuels reduction project on the Mesa Cortina Open Space in October, a project made possible by voter-approved Strong Future funding. In collaboration with the Colorado State Forest Service, crews cut and removed or stacked trees on 32 acres to reduce fuels in this wildland-urban interface adjacent to one of Summit County’s largest residential neighborhoods. Crews will burn the remaining piles once they have cured and conditions are suitable for safe burning and good smoke dispersal.
Spring of 2019 was an interesting and challenging time for the management of the Summit County Recreational Pathway System. Summit County maintains approximately 38 miles of paved Recpath. An historic avalanche cycle in early March deposited 23 massive debris piles on the Tenmile Canyon Recpath. A contractor spent three weeks in June clearing the debris with heavy machinery, at a cost of $45,000. An additional $35,000 was required for cleanup and river bank stabilization. The avalanche debris had caused bank erosion along Tenmile Creek, threatening a segment of the Recpath. The Town of Frisco, U.S. Forest Service and Copper Mountain Resort all contributed toward the cost of the cleanup.
The Tenmile Canyon Recpath is now closed to all users for the winter because of seasonal avalanche danger from the 23 avalanche paths above the Recpath between Frisco and Copper. The Swan Mountain Road Recpath is closed to protect sensitive wildlife. Winter grooming of the Recpath between the Frisco Nordic Center and Breckenridge Recreation Center will continue this winter in collaboration with the towns of Frisco and Breckenridge. This free amenity is open to Nordic skiers, fat bikers and walkers. Motorized uses are not allowed.
Summit County installed widened shoulders and colored pavement at intersections near both ends of Swan Mountain Road this past fall to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians. These new improvements serve as important connections among multiple heavily used sections of the Recpath system.
After an extensive public process with over 1,200 responses, the Board of County Commissioners and the U.S. Forest Service opened the Recpath to Class 1 pedal-assist electric bicycles in spring 2019. On natural surface trails, e-bikes are still considered motorized vehicles and are prohibited.
The Recpath has over 200,000 user visits per year. In an effort to maintain quality experiences on the Recpath, Open Space staff completed a capacity analysis of the Recpath and the Dillion Reservoir Recreation Area with the assistance of a local contractor in 2019. The study looked at issues such as perceptions of crowding, access, parking and overall user satisfaction. A final report is anticipated in early 2020.
The Open Space Program relies heavily on its volunteers to build and maintain trails and the Recpath. In 2019 alone, 261 volunteers donated 1,315 hours of their time. Under the leadership of the County’s seasonal trail technicians, and in partnership with the Town of Breckenridge, volunteers assisted in the construction of the Red Pig Trail and Swan River Trails. County staff conducted maintenance and tree limbing on more than 50 miles of natural surface and paved Recpath.
“Volunteers are critical to the success of open space and trails efforts in Summit County,” said Brian Lorch, Open Space and Trails Director. “We can’t thank our volunteers enough for all of their efforts each year.”
After two seasons of vegetation establishment, Reach A of the Swan River Restoration Project site officially opened to the public in October. Restoration work on jointly owned County and Town open space included over a mile of new stream channel, 26 acres of naturalized riparian floodplain and uplands and a new natural surface trail providing non-motorized access through the site. Design work and gravel removal for the next phase of the project is ongoing. Additional information can be found at www.RestoreTheSwanRiver.com and www.SummitCountyCO.gov/SwanRiverBlog.
Last but far from least, voters overwhelmingly approved a permanent extension of the Open Space Program in November. This will help the County plan strategically for future acquisitions of large properties and develop long-term management actions to address increasing use of open spaces, trails and trailheads.
The Summit County Open Space Program is funded by a mill levy approved by voters in five elections, most recently in 2019. This permanent funding mechanism provides about $1.2 million per year for open space property acquisitions. Established in 1996, the Summit County Open Space Program has preserved the rural mountain character of approximately 17,500 acres of land in Summit County. For more information, visit the Open Space and Trails Department on the Summit County website at www.SummitCountyCO.gov/openspace.