Years of building compromises to allow for recreational and historical uses of the Hermosa Creek drainage and still protect the environment came to fruition this week with the release of the final Hermosa Creek Watershed Management Plan.
The plan, released Friday, builds on work from stakeholders using the Hermosa Creek basin that started in 2008. The collaborative, community-based process included interests and points of view from recreational users such as kayakers, mountain bikers and hikers; the Southern Ute Indian Tribe; state agencies; and conservationists.
“Even though 30 miles of system track were lost to mountain bikers, it honors the willingness of all users to weigh in. We really needed to figure this out together, and that’s what we were able to do,” said Mary Monroe Brown, executive director of Durango-based Trails 2000.
Release of the plan included two maps, one detailing allowable uses for motorized recreational users and one detailing allowable uses for mountain bicycling on trails in the 70,600-acre Hermosa Creek Watershed Special Management Area.
No motorized use or bicycling will be allowed in the adjacent 37,400-acre Hermosa Creek Wilderness.
The final plan’s allowable uses incorporated comments from the latest public comment period, held in summer 2017 for the Hermosa Creek Watershed Management Environmental Assessment.
Cam Hooley, environmental coordinator for the Columbine Ranger District, said signs will go up this summer in the area detailing allowable uses by trail in the area. In addition, the Columbine Ranger District will conduct an educational campaign to inform motorized users and cyclists of new limits on trail use.
Until signs are up and educational efforts are conducted, enforcement of new prohibitions will offer some leeway, Hooley said.
The purpose of setting new limits, Hooley said, is to protect water quality, habitat and wildlife while working to honor recreational and historical uses.
“Ultimately, we want to maintain the watershed in its current condition,” she said.
Brown said compromise efforts continued right through the process after new efforts to impose limits on cycling activities in the Special Management Area required further negotiations to keep the Colorado, Big Lick and Elbert Creek trails open to mountain bikers all year.
In addition, cyclists’ representatives were able to ensure that seasonal closures of other trails are condition-based. For example: When winter is late arriving, such as this year, trails that normally would be closed when elk and deer are forced down from the high country will remain open based on warmer-than-normal conditions.
Another important aspect of the final plan allows for different management policies for motorized vehicles and mountain bicycles, a policy distinction important to cyclists as they provide greater access based on less impact to the environment from cycling, Brown said.
Aaron Clark, government relations manager with the International Mountain Bicycling Association, said he was “disheartened” when new limits were proposed late in the process on cyclists’ access to trails, but he said intervention by Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton helped.
“We’re certainly thankful to Sen. Bennet and Rep. Tipton and their staffs. They came to the defense of mountain bikers,” Clark said.
The Hermosa Creek Watershed protection legislation was signed into law by former President Barack Obama in 2014.
The original legislation leading to the Hermosa Watershed Management Plan was sponsored by Bennet, a Democrat, and Tipton, a Republican. It allows for a range of uses, including motorized and mechanized vehicles, over-snow vehicles, grazing, as well as areas for foot and horse travel only.
Prohibited in the act is road construction in certain areas; commercial timber harvest, with some exceptions; and disposal of land, mining patents and mineral leases.