Forest Service Plan for 44 Miles
By Reid Armstrong
The U.S. Forest Service has released its final environmental assessment and a draft decision for the Magnolia Non-Motorized Trails Project.
The draft decision would approve a 44-mile, non-motorized trail system across about 6,000 acres in Boulder and Gilpin counties in an area along the Peak to Peak Highway known as East Magnolia and West Magnolia. Currently there are only 16 miles of existing National Forest system trails in the area and about 46 miles of non-system or “user-created” trails.
“At the start of this project, we inventoried the trails in the area and discovered that there were all these user-created routes out there in addition to our system trails. Basically, on a map it looks like a spaghetti-bowl of unsustainable trails,” said Recreation Manager Matt Henry with the Boulder Ranger District.
“The goal is to turn that spaghetti bowl into a sustainable, non-motorized trail system that provides a better user experience that’s more in tune with what users are seeking,” Henry said. “We are hoping to do that by improving trail location, alignment and connectivity in a way that also minimizes the impacts to wildlife habitat.”
The project includes building new trail, adding some user-created trails to the system and obliterating all other user-created routes. A total of 29 miles of user-created routes will be obliterated following this decision. Any additional user-created routes found during project implementation will be obliterated as well.
New signage to help keep visitors on the system trails; improved trailheads, including bathrooms and expanded parking at West Magnolia and Front Range trailheads; and facilities for horse trailers at West Magnolia Trailhead are also components of the draft decision.
The draft decision eliminates snowmobiles in the project area and restricts bikes and horses to designated trails. It also provides an opportunity for a special use permittee to groom non-motorized trails in winter for Nordic skiing and fat tire biking – a sport that has seen a remarkable increase in popularity since this project was initially proposed in 2012.
One key component of this draft decision is that it includes an adaptive management approach, which allows the U.S. Forest Service to make adjustments in the implementation of this project as needed.
“Our goal is to enhance the recreation experience for non-motorized users, which includes those on horseback, bicycle and foot,” Henry said. “As we go through the process of implementation, which could take 5 to 10 years, we might discover that there are better ideas for where to locate a trail or how to manage traffic flow. The adaptive management component of this decision will allow us to make those adjustments.”
The project will be implemented in phases by working with partners on both fundraising and implementation, starting on the West Magnolia side of the Peak to Peak Highway as outlined in the decision. Work on the Magnolia trails project where it overlaps with the proposed Forsythe II forest health project will be postponed until analysis is complete and the decision on that project is finalized.
The draft decision also facilitates access from the trail system to the community of Nederland through connecting trails that don’t currently exist, allowing trail users to easily visit a restaurant downtown.
Other regional trail connections outlined in the draft decision include connecting the Magnolia Trail System to the Toll Conservation Easement Trail to Jenny Creek Trail, which would allow non-motorized connection all the way to the Continental Divide on trails; and providing connectivity to Boulder County Open Space’s Reynolds Ranch as that trail system develops over time.
“I’m really excited about this project,” said Boulder District Ranger Sylvia Clark. “It’s located in an area that can really benefit from an improved trail system. The demand for this type of recreation will continue to grow, and through this decision we are hoping to provide a better experience for the visitor while also being better stewards of the land we manage.”
More than 300 people participated in the comment process, submitting upwards of 1,300 comments about the project.
“The level of participation from the public was outstanding,” Clark said. “We always know that when we do a project on the Boulder Ranger District, we are going to get a lot of interest from our partners and neighbors. To see this level of feedback on a project proposal, gives me great hope that the end result will be something we can all be proud of.”
Those who previously provided written comments on the project now have until midnight on Oct. 11 to review the documents and submit written objections. The complete draft decision, final environmental analysis and information about the objection process are available online at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/arp/MagnoliaTrails.