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Forest Service reverses course on Jackson Mountain trails north of Pagosa Springs

Ranger district removes proposed construction of 40 miles of trail from project
The Pagosa Ranger District has decided to remove 40 miles of trail and a gravel pit from the proposed developments included in the Jackson Mountain Landscape Project. (Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service)

The Pagosa Ranger District of the San Juan National Forest announced last week that it will no longer pursue development of a trail system or gravel pit initially included in the proposed Jackson Mountain Landscape Project.

When the scoping period on the project began earlier this year, the district had proposed building 40 miles of mountain bike and multiuse trail in the 11,703-acre area. Unsanctioned trails have existed in the area for over two decades.

The gravel pit would have provided material for noncommercial uses on county and Forest Service roads.

But input submitted by the public contained some serious concerns over the impact the proposed trails could have on the imperiled elk population, which ultimately led to the decision not to pursue that element of the project.

The approval process for the fuels reduction part of the project, which includes up to 2,000 acres of thinning and vegetation treatment, will continue. The site is located north of Pagosa Springs between U.S. Highway 160 and the Archuleta-Mineral county line.

Pagosa District Ranger Josh Peck said that with respect to the trails and the gravel pit, the feedback from the public contained a mixture of support and objection to the proposals.

“What was important in some of those comments presented by several individuals and also nonprofit group entities was the actual substance they raised related to the wildlife impacts,” Peck said.

Over half the project area is classified by Colorado Parks and Wildlife as a winter concentration area for elk, and a smaller portion is classified as “severe winter range.”

Although the trails would be closed in the winter, many wildlife advocates still raised concerns over the impact they could have on elk. CPW expressed concern over the impact on ungulates as a potential issue as well.

Many of the comments objecting to the trails also said the project could set an unwanted precedent regarding illegal trails.

“This trail proposal, if approved, sets precedent that the USFS not only allows illegal trail construction but encourages and accepts it as a legitimate means of bypassing proper planning procedure,” warned Alex Krebs, the assistant regional director of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers in a letter to Peck.

Peck said that was not the objective.

“Often we see those trails as an indicator that we are not providing an experience that people are seeking,” Peck said. “Oftentimes we find that those experiences are something we need to look at, and oftentimes we find that where people are looking for those particular experiences can be a good location to consider.”

Developing Urban Singletrack Trails & Teams, a Pagosa Springs-based mountain bike group, first approached the Forest Service about the trail system in 2017. Over the next several years, the organization partnered with and received support from a variety of nonprofits and agencies, including Archuleta County, to develop a plan.

Fire mitigation work will proceed in the Jackson Mountain area, despite the Pagosa District Ranger’s decision to exclude recreation developments and a gravel pit from further consideration. (Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service)

Developing Urban Singletrack Trails & Teams did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

In an unusual statement, Peck wrote a letter published Thursday in The Pagosa Springs SUN explaining the decision to drop the recreation developments and gravel pit from the proposal.

“There were a lot of folks that we'd spent a lot of time working with on this particular proposal, and it is very important to the community,” Peck said. “I felt it was very important to explain my rationale thoroughly, why I didn't feel like this was the appropriate location.”


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