News Flash

Summit County Government

Posted on: December 22, 2020

County Open Space Program Celebrates Success in Uniquely Challenging Year

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Summit County protects 125 acres, expands paved and natural surface trails system and implements stewardship activities on open space properties

Contact: Christine Zenel, Summit County Open Space & Trails, 970-668-4061

SUMMIT COUNTY – In a year of remarkable and unprecedented challenges, the value of Summit County’s open spaces and trails was never more apparent. As the public increasingly sought solace in the great outdoors, the Summit County Open Space and Trails Program (OST) continued to expand, protect, steward and enhance natural and recreational resources in 2020.

In partnership with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and USDA Forest Service, OST saw construction commence on a long-awaited 3.3-mile-long extension of the Summit County Recreational Pathway (Recpath) system through Tenmile Canyon. The extension is a key segment of the Fremont Pass Recpath project. The broader vision is a collaborative effort of Summit and Lake counties, in partnership with the Climax Molybdenum Company, to create a regional Recpath that connects the pathway systems of the two Counties, passing through National Forest and Climax-owned properties over Fremont Pass and along the State Highway 91 Top of the Rockies National Scenic Byway.

“Following more than a decade of planning, we couldn’t be more excited to see construction of this critically important Recpath segment,” said Brian Lorch, Open Space and Trails director. “The new segment will bypass a dangerous section of Tenmile Canyon and better link the paved trail networks of Summit, Lake, Chaffee, Eagle and Pitkin counties and beyond.”

The Summit County Recpath system experienced an increase in visitor counts of more than 50 percent during 2020 compared to previous years, as recorded by the County’s trail counters. The system is one of the region’s most popular recreational amenities. Construction of the new Fremont Pass Recpath segment, scheduled for completion in 2021, is funded primarily by grants from FHWA, the Colorado State Trails Program, and a donation from Summit Biking. 

The County also added to and enhanced its natural surface trail network. OST completed construction on a 2,500 linear foot, hiking-only trail leading towards the top of Mineral Hill in French Gulch. 

"As a dedicated hiking trail, it should help take pressure off of some of the high-use bike trails in the area, reducing potential for user conflict," said Brad Kremske, seasonal resource specialist. "It also provides an opportunity for hikers and dog walkers to recreate without bike traffic, which is a much-needed amenity in the Golden Horseshoe."

OST modernized bridge crossings on the Willow Creek trail outside of Silverthorne by replacing four log crossings with three new bridges. The new bridges meet modern trail design standards and are consistent with other newer bridges throughout the County’s trail network. 

Summit County acquired 125 acres of open space in 2020, preserving wildlife habitat, scenic backcountry character, public recreational access and agricultural lands. 

“The County completed eight open-space land transactions at a cost of about $2.4 million,” said Resource Specialist Christine Zenel. “We are particularly excited to acquire the 60-acre Ida Belle Mine Property near Keystone. This is a uniquely important property with high conservation and recreation values that the Open Space program has looked forward to acquiring since the program’s inception in 1995.” 

In addition to securing new open space protections, OST expanded forest health management operations on the County’s open space properties to better protect the community from wildfire. In partnership with the Town of Breckenridge Open Space program and the Colorado State Forest Service, OST completed hazardous fuels reductions on Wildland-Urban Interface areas near the Peak 7 and Wellington neighborhoods in the Breckenridge area. Strategic tree thinning, slash piling and pile burning in these locations will help protect adjacent developed areas from wildfire and contribute to overall forest health by improving tree species diversity. Similar tree thinning and pile burning efforts were completed on the Mesa Cortina Open Space in Wildernest in the fall. Piled slash from this year’s hazardous fuels reduction efforts will be burned during the winter of 2021. This work is funded by the Strong Future Fund, approved by Summit County voters in 2018, as well as matching funds from Denver Water’s Forests to Faucets grant program. 

OST partnered with The Nature Conservancy of Colorado to plant 1,200 aspen seedlings and install snow fencing within a 2.5-acre herbivore exclosure at the Barney Ford Open Space outside of Breckenridge. 

“This is a first-of-its-kind experiment to examine how aspen regeneration, and soil and vegetation moisture retention, can help to create natural fire breaks and mitigate wildfire risk,” said Resource Specialist Jordan Mead. “We are excited to follow this project over time and learn more about innovative methods to reduce wildfire risk in our community.”

The County continued its mine reclamation efforts in 2020, most notably on the Swan River Restoration Project site. More than a century after dredge boats destroyed and abandoned the Swan River, 2020 was the first full year the recently restored Reach A segment was officially open to the public. Gravel removal operations continued on the immediately adjacent upstream Reach B segment, a necessary activity prior to commencing restoration work. 

“All gravel crushing is now complete on the Reach B site,” said Senior Resource Specialist Jason Lederer. “We will complete all remaining gravel removal work in 2021, simultaneous with restoration activities aimed at creating the new channel, floodplain, wetlands and other natural features on the site. We are grateful for the ongoing support of our amazing project partners and community during this challenging project.”

In response to increasing demands and evolving usage patterns on the County’s open spaces and trail assets, OST completed a comprehensive analysis aimed at quantifying recreational use within the Dillon Reservoir Recreation Area (DRRA) and on the Recpath system. This analysis provides a better understanding of the level of use and quality of user experience on these popular recreational amenities. 

“We were able to evaluate carrying capacity at these facilities, assess user experience and identify opportunities to better manage ongoing and future challenges,” said Lorch. “The Recpath system and DRRA are becoming busier places and we hope to use this analysis and report recommendations to target specific issues and maintain a world class experience for Summit County residents and visitors.”

In partnership with the USDA Forest Service, Town of Breckenridge, Town of Blue River and Colorado Springs Utilities, OST also initiated the first step of a new planning effort to manage high levels of visitation in the Quandary, Blue Lakes and McCullough Gulch recreation area south of Breckenridge. Visitor use data was collected over the summer and will be used to inform planning and management strategies moving forward. The general public will also have a chance to provide input on these strategies during the winter of 2021.

“Our Open Space and Trails Program is instrumental in maintaining Summit County’s rural mountain character, protecting its unique natural areas, and supporting high-quality outdoor experiences for residents and visitors,” Lorch added. “Our community values these resources immensely, and over the last two-and-a-half decades, we’ve made tangible progress every year to ensure their protection.”

Summit County voters overwhelmingly supported perpetual funding for the County’s Open Space Fund in 2019.

“We’re so grateful for the support of the Summit County community continues to show the Open Space and Trails Program,” Lorch said. “Without the support of our citizens, volunteers and elected officials, many of our program’s accomplishments would not be possible.”

For more information, visit the Open Space and Trails Department on the Summit County website at www.SummitCountyCO.gov/openspace, or call Christine Zenel at 970-668-4061.

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