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Hermosa Creek trails and campgrounds could see change

Change could be coming to some of the trails and camping areas in the Hermosa Creek watershed.

The potential changes are outlined in a draft plan released this week that will govern 107,900 acres north-northwest of Durango.

“It reflects some but not all of the public feedback that we got during the last year and half,” said Matt Janowiak, Columbine District ranger.

The San Juan National Forest hosted field trips last summer to hear from horseback riders, cyclists, hikers, fishermen, motorcyclists and other interested groups before releasing the draft, and they were well attended, he said. The agency will continue accepting comment on the plan for the next several months.

The plan, which will govern all aspects of the area, is required under the legislation that designated the Hermosa Creek Wilderness and Special Management Area, and it must be finished by the end of 2018.

Roads, campsites and toilets

While some campsites will close, the Forest Service plans to add a new area and preserve dispersed camping (free, undeveloped sites).

“I think that’s a pretty good balance,” Janowiak said.

The eight-site Sig Creek Campground would be closed because it cannot expand and it isn’t making enough money to replace its toilets.

The agency would also like to permanently ban dispersed camping along Lower Hermosa Road. This area was closed last year because many campers were living in the forest.

“People just felt unsafe up there. ... We had to do something up there,” Janowiak said.

However 99.9 percent of the existing dispersed camping in the management area would be preserved, he said. In addition, 2.26 miles of spur roads that lead to dispersed sites would be added to the Forest Service system. Backcountry campers must not drive a vehicle more than 300 feet off of a road, according to the plan.

The agency might also move the trailhead that serves the upper end of the Hermosa Trail to the north side of the east fork of Hermosa Creek. As part of the project, a campground and toilet would be built and the picnic tables and corral would be moved so that users do not have to cross the creek.

A small bridge over the creek that could hold ATVs might be built to protect fish from potential pollution, Janowiak said.

Another toilet could be installed near Hermosa Park Road and the Relay Creek Road as well.

Despite cutbacks within the Forest Service, Janowiak said this construction is a good candidate for grants because it is a popular area.

Trail changes

One of the overall goals of the draft plan is to close seldom-used trails as the Forest Service opens new trails. So every time a mile of trail is added in the area, the agency will close two miles of unpopular trail, Janowiak said. None of the most beloved trails will go away, he said.

“We want to accomplish a net loss to bring the trail miles back into balance in that landscape,” he said.

The president of the San Juan Trail Riders, Gary Wilkinson, questions the reduction.

“All across the nation, there is increased demand for trails every year, by every user group,” he said.

But he was happy to see that the upper Dutch Trail could be open to motorized traffic. His group represents motorcyclists and ATV riders.

The Big Lick Trail, however, could be closed to motorized vehicles and bicycles.

This would give horseback riders one trail closed to motorized traffic and bicycles outside of the wilderness area, which is something they requested, Janowiak said.

That proposal doesn’t make sense because Big Lick is connected to trails and roads that do allow bicycles, said Mary Monroe Brown, executive director of Trails 2000, a cycling group.

“We think this would be a better multiuse trail,” she said.

When the 37,000 acres of wilderness was designated, cyclists and motorcyclists were prohibited from using any trails in that area, and she believes trails in the 70,000-acre special management area should be inclusive.

But she understands that there are many trail interests.

“It’s definitely a juggling game for the Forest Service to accommodate all the users,” she said.

She was pleased to see that the Forest Service wants to adopt the West Cross Creek Trail, a former wagon road, into the trail system. This trail links Hotel Draw Trail and the northern portion of Hermosa Creek Trail.

Staff writer Jessica Pace contributed to this story.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

To comment

The draft plan can be found at http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=43010.

Public comments will be accepted until Oct. 1.

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