Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates have completed our analysis of El Paso County’s Draft Master Plan for Jones Park. The master plan can be found here. El Paso County is accepting feedback through a survey that is open until Dec 23, 2020. Please be sure to have your say!
Here is the text of the submissions that MWTA is making on the draft. Feel free to include any of our comments when you complete the survey. Rest assured that MWTA will make these recommendations known to El Paso County Parks Staff, the Parks Advisory Board, and the County Commissioners as appropriate.
MWTA STATEMENT ON JONES PARK DRAFT MASTER PLAN
Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates (MWTA) are mountain bikers who build, share and protect inspiring trail experiences throughout the Pikes Peak Region. Although our organization keeps our primary focus on mountain biking, we advocate for trails and connections that benefit all trail users, and seek to collaborate with all users groups.
MWTA began closely tracking the Jones Park discussion prior to the initiation of the Roundtable process in 2012. MWTA’s values include both recreation and conservation, which are both at the center of the complicated debates surrounding the Jones Park trail network and the threatened greenback cutthroat trout (GBCT). MWTA has been an active member of the roundtable ever since, and our interest in Jones Park is stronger than ever.
MWTA is grateful for the opportunity to share our input on the latest proposal related to this topic, the El Paso County Jones Park Master Plan. We recognize and applaud the significant time and effort from El Paso County Parks staff and other agencies & partners in getting to this draft state. This draft contains many elements to celebrate and provides a strong basis for ongoing collaboration with trail users.
With reference to the map on page 6-14 there are 3 new trails proposed.(editing note – please update section heading to show this is part of Section 6):
We enthusiastically support the addition of Trail #3, the Captain Jack’s loop in this plan. As noted on page 6-12, : “This trail is located entirely outside of the Bear Creek Watershed and will provide a more technical, challenging multi-use experience, as desired by the majority of survey respondents. …..there is minimal risk of the trail and associated recreational use impacting Greenback Cutthroat Trout habit”. MWTA agrees with this risk assessment, and we believe this loop will be desirable for all users (including motorized) and that the use is consistent with the existing Jacks trail adjacent. Bravo and thank you, team!
Likewise MWTA supports the trail reroute labelled #2 which, in addition to improving the sustainability and reducing erosion, can easily be designed to provide unique trail experiences for a variety of users, in either direction. Thank you again for this!
Segment #1, the ascent to the top of Mt Kineo is proposed as hiking only, starting on page 6-9: “Because of the rugged terrain, sensitive habitat, and limited capacity for maintenance in Jones Park, this Master Plan proposes two additional hiking-only trail segments in the park. Hiking-only trails can be more sustainable, they can limit user conflict, and they allow construction techniques such as rustic stairs and narrow trail widths that can help to mitigate challenges associated with steep or rugged terrain. The Master Plan recommends that the proposed Kineo Trail be designated as hiking only trails. This trail is located, in-part, within the Bear Creek Watershed. It climbs steep slopes that may require alternative trail construction techniques, not ideal for motorized, equestrian, or mountain bike access. In addition, the views provided at the summit of Mt Kineo are tremendous and lend themselves towards quiet contemplation that may be more compatible with hiking-only uses. ”
Continuing on page 6-10: “Removing rocks along this trail or rerouting the proposed trail alignment to avoid these areas may result in undue construction impacts to the area.”
MWTA feels that more consideration of this concept is warranted.
- If it can be constructed sustainably, the proposed trail to the top of Mt Kineo would provide mountain bikers with a compelling out-and-back experience with great views. While it’s true that hiking-only trails can be more sustainable, this outcome can also be achieved through proper trail design & construction. And while excluding some users is one way of limiting conflict, we believe this can also be achieved through education and stewardship. We believe the popularity of such a trail would warrant the additional resources required to design a sustainable trail in these conditions. We wonder if undue emphasis was placed on the idea of “undue construction impacts”. This master plan should be aspirational and shouldn’t exclude compelling trail experiences simply because building a multi-use trail here is more difficult than in some other places.
- MWTA cannot align with the concept that this trail is reserved for quiet contemplation only. The proposed trail exists above motorized trails either side of it; not the ideal ‘quiet use’ location. How would a ‘quiet use’ restriction be communicated to users, monitored or regulated? And we don’t agree with the notion that hiking is the only use that enables quiet contemplation if a user chooses. Many mountain bikers enjoy Jones Park today specifically because of the quiet experience that is possible in the property.
- A hiking-only trail summiting from the west will entice hikers to short-cut back down the east side of Mt. Kineo where unofficial trails already exist. New rogue trails in this area will almost certainly include fall-line sections within the watershed, above the existing 667 reroute north of Mt. Kineo. Instead, we suggest that the summit trail for Mt. Kineo should include a descending route to the east to connect back to the existing USFS-constructed trail. The descending trail would need to be created thoughtfully so as to discourage additional rogue trail construction in this area.
MWTA also notes that in both the “Hiking Only” and “Non-motorized multi-use ” subsections of chapter 6, the text of the draft plan still refers in both cases to multiple trails – yet the plan only proposes one in each of these sections. We suspect the language is left over from the consultants’ original proposal, shared at our last round table meeting, which showed at least 2 additional trails on the map.
The master plan consultants recommended 2 additional trails that would support our shared conservation and recreation values by providing compelling user experiences in inspiring locations, created in ways that would discourage rogue trail construction.
- Overlook east of Loud’s cabin: this proposed trail would be a fine additional excursion from Louds up to a large flat overlook.
- Northeast connection into trail 701. Shown here in purple, this connection would take users from the top of Jones Park through beautiful landscape and meadows, connecting back into Captain Jacks at the location of the new proposed Jacks loop (multi-use motorized).
Both of these trails are noticeably absent from this draft, despite being suggested by the consultants and included at every public meeting that has been held through this process.
MWTA recognizes the sensitivity of proposing trails that lie within the watershed, given our recent experience with the NEPA process and also the existence of the conservation easement (CE) held by Palmer Land Conservancy that must be considered in this area.
MWTA suggests that these trails be provisionally included in this master plan, so that they can be constructed in accordance with the CE. Just as the reroute of 667 on the north side of Mt Kineo, built on El Paso County property by USFS contractors in 2017 in accordance with the CE, and following USFS consultation with other agencies including CPW and US Fish & Wildlife Service, additional care will be needed with these trails in order to ensure the protection of the GBCT and their habitat. However, neither the NEPA nor the CE prohibited the 667 reroute, and neither should these prevent our consideration of the 2 trails above.
We suppose that in the 3 years since the 667 reroute north of Mt Kineo and within the watershed, significant data must have been collected about the GBCT population and habitat. Page 6-3 of this draft states that: “The trails that have been reconstructed in the past several years have substantially addressed these concerns.” (with reference to erosion and sedimentation that might impact GBCT and its habitat). That being the case, why were these 2 trails removed from the Jones Park draft master plan?
We call on El Paso county to adopt a data-driven approach to the 2 excluded trails referenced above, and to make an informed decision that supports recreation AND conservation in Jones Park, after considering the data as well as suggestions from partner agencies and adjacent land owners. We ask for these trails to be included in the master plan, incorporating provisions or conditions based on measurable milestones.
MWTA is quite concerned that these recommended trails may have been excluded from the draft because of vague references to risk made by adjacent landowners, without rigorous analysis of the data on their potential impact. If these trails violate the CE that’s one thing, but we observe that they have been removed from the plan prior to being evaluated as part of the CE. The reasons given so far are that adjacent landowners suggest that the trails “might” negatively impact GBCT population and habitat. We object to their removal on this basis alone.
We wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed on Page 6-13: “For all proposed trails in Jones Park, including Multi-Use trails described above, consultation and collaboration with outside agency partners will be required to ensure alignment with the USFS Final Decision, Jones Park Conservation Easement and other guiding management plans and recommendations. Consultation shall be undertaken early in the planning stage for any construction projects to provide ample time for agency partners to review and provide input on future construction and restoration projects.” Consultation and input are essential but these agency partners should not be given veto power over the vision for trails on El Paso County property.
Our final comment follows along from this inclusive statement. We believe that future projects must also be done with improved consultation and cooperation with stakeholders including recreational user groups.
Page 6-2 references “Bear Creek Watershed Round Table, a coalition of user groups, government agencies, and non-profit organizations.” and this reference is repeated in several other parts of the draft master plan. Page 6-6: “Continue to collaborate with the Bear Creek Watershed Roundtable and other partners to ensure continued protection of the Greenback Cutthroat Trout population in Jones Park.“ And on Page 6-9: “It is strongly recommended that the County continue to cultivate these partnerships to ensure the long-term viability of the trail network.“
MWTA has been an active participant in the Roundtable since its inception and we believe it has been successful in bringing disparate groups together for constructive discussion for many years. We request that the role of the Roundtable be clarified in this master plan.
Specifically, MWTA has recently learned that RMFI and EPCP have together submitted a state trails grant application to perform maintenance work in 2021 on the existing trails in Jones Park. While we are excited about the prospect of additional resources to care for the Jones trails system, we were surprised that neither Parks staff nor RMFI felt it would be appropriate or helpful to bring this proposal to the Roundtable stakeholder group.
As part of the masterplan, we suggest as a provision that EPCP, RMFI, or any groups proposing work on the Jones Park trails, share the proposal with the roundtable and seek input when determining the scope of work and priorities.
We also request that the opportunity be made for any trail work on EPC property includes opportunities for user group volunteers. This approach of increased reliance on the Roundtable will strengthen the connection of all users to the area, as well as help the user groups build teams of ambassadors.