Submitted by Julie Chaney
The CHC Trails Committee is best characterized as coordinating advocacy efforts for pack and saddle stock access on Colorado’s public lands. Recreational riding (mostly trails) makes up over 50% of Colorado’s 1.6 billion dollar horse industry. Close to 40% of land in Colorado is publicly owned and managed. If you look only at the mountains, this number is closer to 65% with some counties as high as 85%.
The Challenges With over 90% of the US population now living in urban settings, their contact with large, domesticated animals such as horses is non-existent. Many fear horses, add the “yuk factor” of poop and an overall unwillingness to share brings about challenges for historic access to pack and saddle stock not only in Colorado but nationwide. Unfortunately this trend will more than likely continue to increase. But there is hope!
The US Forest Service (under the USDA), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation manage our Federal public lands. The last four fall under the Dept. of the Interior. On the state landscape level, public lands are managed by the Department of Natural Resources through State Parks, State Wildlife Areas (SWA, Division of Wildlife) and State Trust Lands. Most Trust lands are leased and are not open to the public. County Parks and Open Space departments, Municipalities and Utilities generally manage local public lands.
Each of these levels of land management is governed by very different mandates. Federally, the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA and other Acts dictates much of what is done on those lands. This can be both good and bad. NEPA requires public input for major management policy changes (good) but also requires mountains of studies for even the simplest 50’ trail relocation. The CDNR is not subject to this Act and consequently can make decisions rather arbitrarily depending on the current Director or park manager’s general bias. The Division of Wildlife’s mandate is to protect wildlife habitat and provide the best hunting and fishing opportunities. State Parks are torn between protecting the environment and providing recreation. State Parks, under a new director, has only recently begun a public input process for park planning. The local levels each have their own planning processes. Any amount of public input is subjective.
With so much public land and the sometimes extensive planning processes, it would be impossible for this “Trail Committee” to monitor and react to all proposed actions statewide.
THE HOPE This is why partnerships, such as with the Back Country Horsemen of Colorado, are invaluable. There are 9 active BCH chapters scattered around the state comprising about 700 equestrians. Their mission utilizes the 3-legged stool approach for advocacy: stewardship, through volunteer projects on public lands, education in safety and minimal impact techniques and lobbying. In 2008 BCHCO members volunteered over 3,600 hours valued at $186,000. This included on the ground trail projects, educational clinics and training and public meeting attendance. It has been proven that this approach is very positive and effective. BCHCO chapters and their members have already amended and “saved” many miles of trails as well as improved trailhead facilities for equestrians.
Improvement Needed These 9 chapters effectively cover only about 50% of the public lands in Colorado. For example, equestrians currently do not have any representation in the previously volatile White River National Forest as well as current questions in the Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests plan.
The Call to Action This percentage needs to increase. If you belong to any type of organization whether social, breed, advocacy or service that has an interest in keeping public lands open for pack and saddle stock or even if you are an individual, please contact the Colorado Horse Council office and add your contact information to our list of partners. Then contact your local federal land management office whether FS or BLM, National Park or Monument and request to be added to their Statement of Proposed Actions or SOPA notification list for recreation or travel management. They must, by law, notify you of any upcoming public meetings or comment periods. Also contact your state parks and SWA/DOW office to see if there are any upcoming planning processes that may affect equestrian access. The same applies to county and other local entities. Be willing to “rally the troops” and attend public meetings, submit written comments and continue to contact your local mangers and monitor their web sites. Please keep this committee updated about your challenges and do not hesitate to ask for assistance. The Back Country Horsemen of America have published many “white papers” that cite scientific studies addressing all of the negative assumptions about horse use that have been thrown at us. Many are available on their web site. There is no need to waste time and reinvent the wheel.
If you do not belong to a willing organization, please contact me and I’ll help hook you up.
Major items for 2009:
USFS Trails Classification System Call to Action-“In 1998, the Forest Service determined that a more uniform and integrated national trail classification system would improve inventory and on-the-ground management. Consequently, in 1999 the Forest Service transitioned from the three trail classes of way, secondary, and mainline to the five Trail Classes in effect today.” (FS RIN0596-AC47) The change created different trail classes for all major recreational users, many of which will not accommodate pack and saddle stock use. Back Country Horsemen are concerned that managers will assign trail classes that will not accommodate pack and saddle stock use on trails that were historically accessible to stock. Preliminary information received in 2009 from the Forest Service indicates that as much as 59% of the existing trail system will not be managed for pack and saddle stock under the new system. Back Country Horsemen need to get involved in monitoring the implementation of the program or we may find that our favorite trails are no longer managed for our use. Dennis Dailey, BCHA Director of Issues and Policies
USFS 2008 National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule-the District Court for Northern California, Ninth Circuit ruled on June 30, 2009 that the Forest Service’s adoption of this rule violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act. The court enjoined the Forest Service from implementing and using the 2008 planning rule and remanded the matter to the agency for further proceedings.
This is the 2nd lawsuit of this type. This puts Forests’ Land Management Plan revisions on hold including those for the Pike/San Isabel NF, Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands. Many Front Range equestrians already attended Plan revision public meetings several years ago. Their process will resume once this matter has been settled to the satisfaction of the courts.
CO State Parks-Many public meetings were held for the planning of Staunton State Park with the final master plan revealing a proposal to develop over 13 miles of multi-use trails (to include equestrians) and a total of 18 miles of hiker only trails, many of which are over very rugged terrain or sensitive drainages. It will also allow access to the Pike NF. There are also 5 trailer parking slots in the 1st phase and large group parking with prior arrangements. The 2nd phase may include yurts that will be available for equestrians. This is a vast improvement over the original 3-4 miles for equestrians originally proposed. What made the difference? EQUESTRIANS PARTICIPATED! We were invited to the table from the beginning-the most important step-and we voiced our requests in an organized and civil manner within the confines of the process.
Lake Pueblo State Park also entered a trail planning process when a local mountain biking group complained about damage to trails caused by equestrians. A few members of Rocky Mountain Back Country Horsemen have done volunteer work on the official trails for many years. The mountain bikers expanded the trail system before the park had any generally approved plans and wanted exclusive use of these trails and took the initiative to sign them as such using the State Parks logo. A public meeting was held and many equestrians attended from RMBCH, the Pueblo West Horsemen’s Association as well as individuals. I was informed a few were unfortunately not quite so civil. Planning is still ongoing, hopefully in a more educated manner. This situation needs to be closely monitored.
Cheyenne Mountain State Park, which did not have a public planning process, is still closed to all equestrian access. But new property at the “Top of the Mountain” has been undergoing the state’s new public process. BCH and Cavalier Riding Club members attended many meetings. We have requested revisiting the plans for Cheyenne Mountain and have been met with “We will consider it.” The plan is ongoing and will require more meetings and public comment.
Chatfield State Park is undergoing research with the Army Corp of Engineers to raise the water level in the lake either 5 or 12 feet, both of which will have an impact on recreation and trails especially along the South Platte River and Plum Creek. There was a public meeting explaining the impacts to all types of recreation and their plans for mitigation and infrastructure replacement. They asked select representatives to respond to a very detailed survey. Studies are ongoing.
Cherry Creek and Chatfield State Parks are studying their dog off-leash “training” areas. Public meetings have been held and public comments taken. This was very emotional for the dog owners. We are waiting for a decision.
Roxborough State Park is undergoing a general management plan review. Currently horses are not allowed in the park except for one negotiated trail connecting 2 Douglas County Open Spaces. At their public open house we requested consideration for a new parking lot and trailhead near CR 5 for access to the Nelson Ranch Open Space when the Sharptail Trailhead is closed during hunting season. Plans have not been released.
State Wildlife Areas-Several years ago about 15 SWAs were closed to saddle stock citing the smaller size of the areas, disturbance of wildlife by horses and damage to dam faces. They do not have a public input process and it is difficult to get information. The Pueblo West Horsemen’s Association has informed CHC that the DOW has proposed closing the Pueblo SWA to all but hiking. I have been unable to confirm this and do not know the current status.
Colorado Springs Utilities hosted an open house in their consideration process of opening land they control on the north and west slopes of Pikes Peak. Many recreationists would like to see the Ring the Peak trail completed. Some of this trail is open to equestrians. We would like to see horses included in all of the planning due to their use by the area’s historic explorers. Plans are ongoing.
Request-The Trails and Open Space Coalition in El Paso County has requested an equestrian volunteer to sit on their Board of Directors. That we were asked is an honor and a giant step forward with this organization. If you are interested please contact the new ED, Susan Davies 719-633-6884.
Along with my duties on the CHC Board & Trail Committee, I am also the Chairperson for BCHCO and on the BCHA Board of Directors, thus the apparently seamless partnership between BCH and the CHC. In addition to those listed above, other meetings I have attended representing equestrians in 2009 were: USFS Region 2 Wilderness Volunteer Workshop, Colorado Front Range Trail planning, several Colorado Outdoor Recreation Resource Project (CORRP) meetings, Jefferson County Open Space Trail Use Task Force (TUFT) regarding trailer parking restrictions, Colorado Horsemen’s Day at the Capitol, BCHA Annual Board Meeting in WA, FS Packing clinic-one day presenting Leave No Trace training, Boulder County Horsemen’s Association Public Lands Day appreciation ride and bar-b-que and the Healthy Colorado Kids Outdoors Tour hosted by Lt. Governor, Barbara O’Brien.
These are only the meetings I have attended in the Denver & Colorado Springs metro areas. There were other BCH members attending many of these with me. BCH members around the state continually attend meetings. Do equestrians enjoy attending these meetings? Absolutely not! Will we be able to retain trails we currently ride without attending meetings? Absolutely not! Will we be able to retain trails if we do attend meetings? YES! I consider it a win for all trail riders if we are invited to the table. Are YOU willing to stand up to the challenge when that invitation comes?