Letter to the Editor: SMT Responds to Recreation Plan Management Group – by Neighborhood Contributor

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Dear editor,

Salida Mountain Trails (SMT) respectfully denies County Commissioner Greg Felt’s remarks in a recent comment that SMT “was insincere … and contributed to public confusion” regarding the new Chaffee Recreation Plan.

As we have said many times, SMT fully supports many of the goals of the recovery plan. We applaud the much-needed efforts to contain forest fires, dispersed camping and recreational infrastructure. However, SMT is one of several parties – including Monarch Mountain, the Poncha Springs City Government, Central Colorado Mountain Riders, local businesses, and more – who are concerned that the plan’s Community Concentration Zones, as described in the Wildlife section of the Recreation Plan, are becoming too are small and restrictive.

These Community Concentration Zones (see page 29 of the Recovery Plan) are designed to focus recreation – and recovery funding – in specific areas near cities. This is something that we support to ensure a connected vs. extensive network of paths. What we do not support is the stated intent of the plan to largely “discourage new recreational activities” outside of these small areas.

Only about five percent of Chaffee County’s vast public land is within these zones. None of this is public forest administration land; only BLM. The zones are closely adjacent to the city limits of Salida, BV and Poncha Springs and do not even include the entire existing footprints of the Salida or BV mountain bike and hiking trail systems. The zone in Poncha does not include any available public land south of the city for a future path connecting that city to Salida via the Methodist Mountain Trail System, which is a stated goal of the Poncha Springs municipal government.

Outside these zones, the recreation plan characterizes the vast majority of all other public areas as habitats for wild animals of “high” or “highest” quality and calls for “preventing new recreational developments”. The plan does not specify what “discouragement” means, nor does it differentiate between different types of recreation. The main contributors to the wildlife area, maps and recreation plan zones are listed as the Quiet Use Coalition and CPW Wildlife Biologists. In our opinion, the results give hunting a high priority over all other forms of outdoor recreation. Hunting is currently permitted on approximately 90 percent of all public land in Chaffee County. There is nothing in the recovery plan that discourages hunting or detailing its effects on wildlife.

The planning effort for this leisure plan began with the slogan “Recreation in Balance”. We believe it is out of balance not recommending a new recreation on approximately 90 percent of all public lots in Chaffee County. Conversely, we also support appropriate limits, which we consider to be very valuable and necessary.

In a broader sense, SMT believes that the existing federal process for approving hiking trails already thoroughly considers wildlife concerns, balanced with all other factors. This process for each new trail permit takes years of work; In addition to considering wildlife, consider the cultural, environmental, and economic impacts – a real balance.

Before a trail suggestion is made, there is extensive coordination with CPW wildlife resources and BLM or Forest Service wildlife experts. There are then two rounds of public commentary and a final decision as to whether or not approval may or may not be given. If “discouraging new leisure activities” only means indicating your position during the public comment periods, then we welcome and accept this. But there is also a declared aim of “active participation in management”.

What does that mean?

SMT has consistently expressed our problems with the “Community Concentration Zones” to the management team of the leisure plan. We claim we have not been insincere, contributed to confusion, or spread misinformation.

We are merely asking the district officers to direct the recovery plan leadership team to re-open this portion of the plan for further review and revision to allow for a balance that we believe more broadly reflects the sentiments of the wider community. This, in our opinion, will lead to increased support and greater long-term success of the plan.

SMT is proud of the collaboration we have built with our district officers over the years. Together we worked on several great projects for the community: trailhead parking, large grant support, improved access / safety for users to trailheads on county roads. We look forward to continuing our work together for the good of the community, and we see many opportunities in the activity schedule to do just that.

Mike Smith – SMT Board President

Jon Terbush – SMT Managing Director