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Winter Park seeks feedback on plan for Fraser River Trail

Winter Park is moving forward with plans to construct the Fraser River Trail through the Roam property, connecting the popular trail from downtown to Winter Park Resort.

On Tuesday, town council approved a grant submission to Colorado Parks and Wildlife for construction of the trail and announced an open house from 4-5:30 p.m. Thursday at town hall to gather feedback.

“The open house is intended to begin the public outreach on this proposed project,” Town Manager Keith Riesberg said. “The project entails constructing enhancements along the trail, as well as deploying new signage along the Fraser River Trail.”

The $250,000 grant would go toward constructing the trail in 2021. The town is expecting to have to match grant funding by at least 50%, according to Community Development Director James Shockey.

Town staff also plan to pursue a Great Outdoors Colorado grant next year to pay for the enhancements and signage with the project. Shockey hopes Thursday’s forum will provide residents a chance to hear about potential amenities along the trail.

“We want to know what the public wants from this project,” he said.

In other business:

 • Council approved a grant submission to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs seeking $600,000 to cover the cost of installing utilities for 20 new houses in Hideaway Junction, a deed restricted, workforce housing neighborhood. The grant would require the town to match $300,000. Construction isn’t expected to start until at least 2022.

• Winter Park adopted a new town mission: “Winter Park is a welcoming year-round community that values sustainable growth while preserving our heritage, adventurous soul and alpine environment.”

The previous mission statement had been in place for two years and referred to the town as a “quality resort community.” Town council wanted to change the statement to reflect that Winter Park is more than the resort.

• A new town handbook was approved by council. The changes include procedures for online meetings and processes for board, commission and committee appointments.

• The winter service line for the Lift transit system was approved with only slight changes to most routes, except for the orange and brown lines.

The orange line will have a significantly different route this season, stopping on the new extension of Kings Crossing Road. The brown line will service Forest Trail. For more, www.theliftwp.com.

Trail work moving to Phases following Williams Fork Fire closure

Trail work that had been planned in the Arapaho National Forest has been delayed due to a closure from the Williams Fork Fire.

Fraser, along with other entities, hold a memorandum of understanding with the Headwaters Trail Alliance for the Trail Smart Sizing project. The town allocated $30,000 for work on trails including in the Arapaho National Forest.

However, Town Manager Jeff Durbin informed the Fraser Board of Trustees on Tuesday that the planned work was located in the portion of the forest that has closed down due to the Williams Fork Fire.

The Headwaters Trails Alliance asked if the town would be willing to move crews to the Phases Trail System near Tabernash. The agreement does not include Phases, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, so the town would have to give permission for the money to be used that way.

Trustee Andy Miller explained that that section of land had recently been converted to non-motorized and is in need of trail rehab work. He added that this section of trails is one of the first to open in the spring as it is south facing.

Miller pointed out that the town’s interest in the project was to improve trails near Fraser, and that Phases is about as far away from Fraser as the specified Arapaho National Forest trails.

“I would really like to see them keep moving,” Miller said of the work.

There was some concern that this could close down more trails in the Fraser Valley, which even before the fire was seeing a large set of closures due to construction. Miller asserted that the crews had been good about keeping trails open as they worked.

Durbin added that HTA is making a similar request to Winter Park’s government. Fraser’s board unanimously approved allowing HTA to move the trail work to Phases.

Some of the trails currently open in the Fraser Valley include those on Berthoud Pass, Jim Creek, Discovery Loop at Bonfils, High Lonesome, Idlewild Trail System, Rendevous Trail System, Little Vasquez Road, Fraser River Trail, Givelo, Northwest Passage, Devils Thumb, Caribou, Strawberry Creek, West Strawberry and Columbine Lake.

In other business:

•  The trustees held an executive session for an hour and a half regarding development infrastructure matters, but took no action resulting from the session.

• The board appointed Tara Rose and Jerilyn Suster to both the Economic Development Advisory Committee and the Public Arts Committee. They also appointed Lisa Baird to the Fraser Valley Arts Board.

Colorado Department of Transportation to barricade Loveland Pass parking lots Sunday

DILLON — The Colorado Department of Transportation announced on its social media channels late Saturday evening that it is taking action at Loveland Pass amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

At 8:40 p.m., on Saturday evening, CDOT announced the travel alert for the high-mountain pass on the Continental Divide bridging Clear Creek and Summit counties, a popular access point for backcountry recreators.

The alert said two parking lots at the 11,990-foot pass will be barricaded Sunday. CDOT wrote that the state agency is, “being forced to place barriers to prevent motorists from parking unsafely on US 6 while recreating on Loveland Pass, activity which took place again (Saturday).”

In a social media post that asked “who’s skiing and boarding on Loveland Pass today,” Colorado State Patrol reported earlier Saturday that they observed license plates from Colorado as well as from Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, California, Texas, Illinois and Massachusetts.

“Busy day up here,” state patrol’s Jefferson and Clear Creek county division wrote on social media.

Trails org reminds recreators to practice good etiquette

As more people are limited in how they can spend their time, many in Grand County are taking the opportunity to get outdoors and practice social distancing in the fresh air.

However, with more people on the trails and in the backcountry than usual, Headwaters Trails Alliance, Grand County’s trails and public lands nonprofit, is reminding recreators to use their best trail etiquette to maintain the areas for others and keep everyone safe.

Here are some of their top tips:

  • Keep your distance. Even in the great outdoors, the coronavirus can be transmitted. Remember to give other trail users or recreators the recommended six feet of space and cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
  • Another perk of spending time outdoors is that both humans and their four-legged friends can get out at once. If pets join the fun, be sure to pick up after them. According to the HTA, pet waste negatively impacts our local water sources and wildlife.
  • Be aware of trail conditions. Some trails are soft or muddy due to the melting snow and HTA requests recreators not use trails that aren’t packed or dry. If a recreator begins to post-hole on a snowy trail or leave footprints in the mud, the best thing to do is find another trail. This is because post-holes create a potentially dangerous trail surface for all trail users, HTA says. The trails organization added that using muddy trails creates lots of damage that is difficult and labor-intensive to remedy. At the warmer times of day, hikers are encouraged to walk on roads instead to preserve our trail surface.
  • Wherever you are recreating, carry a trash bag with you. Continue to practice the pack in/pack out method and don’t leave trash on public lands.

Hikers on Colorado’s big peaks surged 5.7% in 2018; Aspen area’s Elk Mountains among least visited

An estimated 353,000 people hiked Colorado’s peaks above 14,000 feet in 2018 — an increase of about 5.7% over the prior year, according to Colorado Fourteeners Initiative.

CFI has gauged use of the big peaks for five years using counters where allowed and modeling on mountains in wilderness. The trend shows annual growth.

“We have to contend with the fact that the fourteeners get more and more popular each year,” said Lloyd Athearn, executive director of CFI.

The nonprofit organization monitors use and works to protect the environment on the high peaks through education and by building sustainable trails. User numbers lag by a year because the information from counters must be collected, added and analyzed.

CFI’s analysis shows that more than half of all 14er-hiking statewide occurs on the 11 peaks closest to the Front Range, where the population is booming.

For the first time in five years of monitoring, Mount Bierstadt near Georgetown was “dethroned” as the most popular peak. Quandary Peak near Breckenridge had an observed count of 38,259 hiker days between May 29 and Oct. 7, 2018, according to CFI. Data from a U.S. Forest Service counter and modeling by CFI indicate Mount Bierstadt experienced about 36,800 hiker days.

The busiest single day recorded last year for hiking on any fourteener was July 20, when 1,023 people climbed Bierstadt. The biggest day for hiking Quandary was July 14, when 945 people climbed the peak.

The other peaks in the top five for use were Grays and Torreys peaks, which are often climbed together; Mount Elbert, across Independence Pass from Aspen; and the “Decalibron loop” that includes the three adjacent peaks of Mount Lincoln, Mount Democrat and Mount Bross.

Hiking the biggest peaks in the Elk Mountains around Aspen remains stable at a comparatively lower level, Athearn noted. A counter on Castle Peak southwest of Aspen has indicated between 1,000 and 3,000 hikers make their way to the summit per year. The modeling shows a similar range for Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, Capitol Peak, Snowmass Mountain and Pyramid Peak.

All told, the best estimate is about 9,000 hikers climb the Elk Mountains per year, Athearn said. That places them in the least visited category among the 54 peaks above 14,000 feet, along with those in the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Athearn said it is possible that education efforts have paid off to convince hikers and climbers that the Elk Mountains “are not the average walk in the fourteener park.”

The steepness, exposure and crumbly rock make the Elk Mountains some of the most treacherous in the state for hikers who aren’t prepared. After nine people died in the Elk Mountains in 2017, CFI and Mountain Rescue Aspen stepped up education efforts to try to get people better prepared for the Elk Mountains. There has been one fatality this year, involving an experienced climber.

Athearn said CFI videos of the dangers of climbing the big peaks and the safeguards that should be taken were viewed 28,000 times this year as of about one month ago. The Elk Mountains were prominently displayed in the videos.

Weather can play a role in user numbers. A low snowpack allowed the hiking season to begin early in 2018. In 2019, the hiking season didn’t start in earnest in the high country until late July.

CFI has 22 counters on peaks while the Forest Service has one that captures traffic exclusively on a fourteener and three others that capture traffic using multiple trails, including fourteeners. It is doubtful that other counters will be utilized because the Forest Service has declined permission to place them on peaks in wilderness. Modeling, which includes reported use on various fourteener “checklists,” is used to estimate the number of hikers on peaks where counters aren’t allowed.

Multiple years of tracking use is building an accurate collection of data, Athearn said.

CFI’s user data show what any frequent hiker intuitively knows — use is heaviest on weekends.

“Roughly half of hiking occurs on weekends, with Saturday use (30.5%) higher than Sunday (20%) at virtually all locations monitored,” CFI’s report said.

Athearn said it is “complicated” to assess how the increased use is affecting the environment of the big peaks. High use doesn’t necessarily mean high degradation of the trails, he said.

CFI has constructed 31 sustainably designed and durably built trails to the summits of 28 of the peaks. One of the trails is on Quandary Peak, one of the highest used. A CFI report card showed the condition of the trail was an “A-” in 2018. It had been graded at “C+” in 2011 before the trail work.

However, that grade doesn’t assess what’s happening off trail with parking vehicles, camping and how well hikers are taking care of waste while on the trail, Athearn noted.

“Are they using the Leave No Trace practices?” he asked.

The numbers also raise questions about the quality of experience on some of the fourteeners.

“You can find solitude — if you go on a Tuesday,” Athearn said. “It’s going to be real hard to find solitude if you go on a Saturday.”

Headwaters Trails Alliance releases county master plan, details $6M in projects

Over 1,000 miles of trails crisscross Grand County, attracting all kinds of recreators and providing countless opportunities to explore, several of which are detailed in a new strategic master plan that focuses on improving the county’s various trail systems.

The Headwaters Trails Alliance released its Strategic Trails Plan last week, which outlines $6 million in work over the next 10 years and includes maps and analysis of the existing trails broken into three subareas – Winter Park and Fraser, Granby and Grand Lake, and Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremmling.

It’s centered around four goals to improve county-wide connectivity, increase engagement and educate users, develop trail projects that enhance the experience and enhance the community focus of the trail system.

“They are overall broad goals that allowed for all of the different objectives and then the benchmark being underneath that, which allowed us to put projects with those particular goals and objectives,” said Meara McQuain, executive director for the Headwaters Trails Alliance. “That’s the 30,000 foot view for what the county really needs to be sustainable and improve the outdoor recreation experience and safety.”

In order to accomplish these goals, the plan includes opportunities and constraints for each subarea, as well as identifies specific project ideas that would be in line with the plan.

For example, in the Granby and Grand Lake areas, connectivity between the towns and their trail systems was identified as an opportunity and a potential project would be to engage the railroad in discussions to provide trail access from downtown Granby to Kaibab Park.

McQuain noted that the Headwaters Trails Alliance will be starting work on some projects identified in the plan this year, such as improving safety and maintenance of trails in the Strawberry Creek area.

According to the plan, successful implementation is dependent on the collaboration of the various agencies which manage the land the trails are on because no single agency has the resources need to accomplish the goals. It is also dependent on finding the needed money, which is why the plan includes potential funding sources and partnership opportunities.

In order to create the master plan and its goals, the Headwaters Trails Alliance worked with the relevant land agencies, municipalities and stakeholder groups to develop feasible ideas based on existing infrastructure and that address the variety of users.

Ultimately, the goal is to set Grand County’s trails apart by utilizing the community-driven plan to diversify and improve users options in a way that will positively impact the future.

“Recreation is the hot industry, not just in our county, but across the country and we know that (…) it is a multi-billion dollar industry, so it’s a big pie that we want to make sure Grand County continues getting a piece of,” said Maire Sullivan, an employee at the Headwaters Trails Alliance. “If we don’t continue to maintain and preserve and improve the experience of those people that are coming here, we’re going to be losing out on our piece of that pie.”

Hiking at elevation: The risks vs. the rewards

Every year tens of thousands of people ascend the high mountain passes to reach Grand County to spend time hiking in the High Country. And every year a significant number of those individuals will experience altitude sickness symptoms ranging from mild to severe.

“Altitude illness can happen to anybody,” said Dr. Michelle Lupica of Middle Park Medical Center. “It doesn’t matter if you have a chronic condition or are an Olympian.” 

According to Lupica, the single biggest factor that impacts the potential onset of any altitude illness relates to acclimation.

“The biggest mistake I see is people that don’t acclimate,” Lupica said. “They come straight from the airport and drive up the mountain. They don’t take any time to adjust. Those are the people we see getting sick most often.”

Out-of-state visitors and those hailing from low lying or coastal regions would benefit greatly from spending a few days in Denver before heading to the High Country. She also suggested that anyone visiting Grand County either refrain from alcohol or marijuana use for the first few days or limit any use of such substances. 

The medical community considers an elevation of roughly 6,000 feet above sea level as being the starting elevation at which people are likely to experience altitude illness. The likelihood of an altitude illness incident increases for every 2,000 feet of additional elevation gained, she explained.

All of the communities across Grand County are well above 7,000 feet in elevation. The popular destination of Winter Park tops out above 9,000 feet making all regions prime territory for bouts of altitude illness. 

The spectrum of altitude illnesses range from the mild form, referred to as mountain sickness, to the middle form of high altitude pulmonary edema to the severe form known as high altitude cerebral edema. 

Those suffering from mountain sickness will typically experience headaches, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and a lack of energy. Individuals suffering from high altitude pulmonary edema will experience the same symptoms as mountain sickness but with a severe shortness of breath to the point that almost any activity is extremely difficult. Lupica said pulmonary edema causes the lungs to begin filling with fluid and lowers oxygen saturation. 

If a person appears very pasty, blue or purple that would be considered a medical emergency, Lupica said. Pulmonary edema typically occurs above 8,000 feet and Lupica noted Middle Park Medical Center does treat people suffering from the sickness in Granby and Winter Park. Pulmonary edema can potentially be treated with oxygen and does not necessarily require sufferers’ declension to lower altitudes. 

High altitude cerebral edema typically occurs above 10,000 feet Lupica said and while cases of it in Grand County are rare, they do occur, typically when an individual is hiking on high peaks such as those along the Continental Divide and up Byers Peak. According to Lupica, the condition causes your brain stem to “kind of squirt out the back of the hole in your skull.” 

Lupica said the portion of the brain impacted by cerebral edema is responsible for breathing and impacts from the condition are dangerous and severe, typically requiring evacuation of a patient to lower elevations. Those suffering from cerebral edema will experience headaches and vomiting and will be extremely disoriented and confused.

Lupica recommended that anyone suffering from chronic conditions such as heart disease or lung diseases such as COPD should consult their doctors before venturing into the high country. 

To combat any potential altitude illnesses Lupica recommends acclimation periods at lower elevations. She said ibuprofen has been shown to help people acclimate faster than they would otherwise and some studies have also shown ginkgo biloba can help, though she added research on the issue is inconclusive. She also highlighted Diamox, a prescription drug used to treat mountain sickness, as a potential treatment to prevent altitude illness. e

The epic hike: Trail expert suggests hike to Vasquez Peak is county’s most grueling

The difficulty level of Grand County’s trails run the gamut from relatively easy afternoon strolls to laborious multi-day excursions deep into the backcountry. Though even among the more difficult trips are a few treks that are truly daunting. 

Epic hikes are not hard to find throughout the mountain meadows and stream carved valleys of Grand County. Lengthy and strenuous hikes, such as the journey to Mount Nystrom or the Never Summer Wilderness loop route leading from North Supply Trailhead to Bowen Pass, can be found in nearly every corner of our mountain highlands. 

But there is one hike in particular that even the most experienced of hikers will find both challenging and rewarding in a way few other trails can boast. 

For Deborah Carr, co-author of the preeminent local hiking guide “Hiking Grand County, Colorado,” the most challenging hike in Grand County is, without question, the journey up to Vasquez Peak.

“There are a whole bunch of difficult hikes (in Grand County) but that one is killer,” Carr said.

The debate about the most epic hike in Grand County is one for which Carr’s opinion is especially pertinent. Over the past 20 years, Carr and her husband and co-author, Lou Ladrigan, have crisscrossed Grand County’s alpine territories and riparian valleys as they have developed and expanded their hiking guide, which contains 101 hikes within the region.

There are two primary routes for reaching Vasquez Peak. One route leads hikers to the mountaintop alongside Vasquez Creek from the Fraser Valley. For Carr, though, the epic route to Vasquez Peak starts higher up on the rocky slopes of Berthoud Pass.

Carr’s hiking route to Vasquez Peak totals a shade over 12 miles round trip and begins at the top of Berthoud Pass on the border between Grand and Clear Creek counties. Over half the length of the trip to Vasquez Peak follows the Continental Divide Trail and most of the tour takes hikers well above tree line offering spectacular views of the Vasquez Peak Wilderness to the northeast and the Byers Peak Wilderness to the northwest.

Carr likened the difficult trek to Vasquez Peak to high intensity interval training due to the route’s continuous up and down topography. The route involves a little over 3,000 feet of elevation gain on the way to Vasquez Peak alone. The back track includes significant elevation gain, as well, notably the descent to Vasquez Pass and the hike back up to Stanley Mountain, though it includes more downhill hiking than uphill.

Anyone looking to tackle the trip to the top of Vasquez Peak should take note of the length of time estimated to make the journey, roughly nine hours round trip, as well as the exposure created by the high alpine route. e

23,000 acres: Experiment with the Experimental Forest

A short drive southwest of the community of Fraser lies a 23,000-acre expanse of wooded mountain slopes that holds a special place in the hearts of many Grand County locals, the Fraser Experimental Forest.

The Fraser Experimental Forest, established in 1937 as part of the U.S. Forest Service’s Experimental Forest and Range system, contains a myriad of trails and a maze of forest service roads that Grand County visitors can roam at their pleasure. Recreation options abound in the Experimental Forest from the quick and easy Creekside and Flume Trail Loop, running along both sides of St. Louis Creek, to the lengthy and difficult trek to Mt. Nystrom, challenging the hardiest of hikers with a round-trip distance of 23 miles.

The Experimental Forest is the starting point for most hikers looking to tackle one of Middle Park’s most popular mountains, Byers Peak, and also contains a expansive amount of single track trails for mountain bikers. The Zoom trail, leading down from a local forest service road to the Flume Trail offers a wild and fun experience for bikers looking to tackle some modest downhill riding.

Other popular trails in the Experimental Forest include challenging yet manageable options like West St. Louis Creek, Deadhorse and Tipperary Creek and more strenuous options like the lengthy 13-plus mile St. Louis Lake trail. If you are looking for a quick and easy place to get into some wild spaces but are not looking to roam too far from the Fraser Valley, the Experimental Forest is one of your best bets for finding the level of adventure for which you are hunting.

When venturing out into the Experimental Forest take note of its name. The Experimental Forest, while a popular and practical destination for hikers, mountain bikers and those looking to pitch a tent in an official USFS campsite, it is first and foremost an outdoor research facility for the federal government where studies are conducted on a wide range of topics. As such, visitors should take care to stay on forest service roads and formal trails and not venture off the beaten path. Likewise camping in the Experimental Forest is strictly limited to the formal sites in the St. Louis Creek Campground.

Untamed wilderness: Making it through Never Summer

At the far northern tip of Grand County, in a space of land wedged between the Kawuneeche Valley and the vast plain of North Park, lies an expanse of untamed wilderness whose very name evokes the scenes of snowcapped peaks visitors find almost year-round.

The 21,000-acre wilderness area takes its name from the deep pockets of snow that linger well into summer, in some cases year round depending on multiple factors. The wilderness area largely sits in the shadow of the long spine of peaks running from Baker Mountain through the Cloud Mountains up to the 12,940 feet tall Mount Richthofen. 

It is a popular spot for day hikers and backcountry campers and because of its status as a wilderness area all motorized travel, including bicycle use, is prohibited. Several portions of the northern and central Never Summer Wilderness are more easily accessed via Jackson County but the southern portions of the Never Summer Wilderness including Bowen Trail and the popular camping sites around Bowen Lake are most easily reached from Grand County.

The Never Summer Wilderness contains immense beauty and quiet trails far from the well-worn path where you will encounter comparatively few human trekkers. Wildlife is abundant in the area including deer, elk and moose and it is not unusual to encounter one or all of those species on a summer hike. As such anyone hiking in the area should remember to avoid wildlife to the best of their ability, especially moose, and remember to keep any dogs on leashes, as required by federal regulations.

The Never Summer Wilderness is remote by Colorado standards. There is little to no cell phone service throughout the wilderness and assistance from search and rescue crews or first responders will be hours in coming, even after calls for help have been received. Anyone looking to tackle the solitude of the Never Summers should come prepared with plenty of food and water and additional cold weather clothing. Even in the heart of summer the wilderness often maintains brisk temperatures.