Access denied: Popular snowmobile trail remains closed
The Grand Lake town trail has not yet opened to snowmobiles, raising ire in the Snowmobile Capital of Colorado.
The trail, officially known as the North Supply Access Trail, connects Grand Lake to a network of snowmobile trails in Arapaho National Forest and makes the town a popular destination for enthusiasts. Rocky Mountain National Park manages a 2 mile section of this trail in the southwest corner of the park.
Residents have expressed growing frustration and posted homemade signs on barriers demanding access to the trail. A letter to Sky-Hi News from Grand Lake resident Ronnie McQuade accused Rocky Mountain of mismanaging this public land, which he said last year opened by Dec. 1.
“People move here and buy vacation homes in the area so they have direct access to the snowmobiling trails and the forest,” McQuade wrote. “But even with good snow, the area is somehow not open.”
Concerns have grown to the level that Town Manager John Crone wrote a memo to citizens on the status of the trail last week. As the trail is maintained by Rocky Mountain, Grand Lake has no control over the operations of the trail, but Crone expressed its importance.
“The town shares your concerns and wants you to know that we are doing everything that we can to ensure that we have access from town to the National Forest trails,” Crone said.
According to Rocky Mountain Public Affairs Officer Kyle Patterson, park staff always wait for a minimum of 24 inches of snowpack before allowing snowmobiles on the trail.
“When there is insufficient snowpack cover of less than 24 inches, the trail is no longer suitable for use by snowmobiles; both with respect to damage on snowmobile equipment and the sustainability of the trail,” Patterson said.
Patterson went on to explain that, while parts of the trail along county roads are in good condition, the first half-mile sees a lot of sun and is generally the last area to reach sufficient snow coverage.
During the holiday season, the trail area’s snowpack has varied from 10-13 inches of actual snow depth, according to Patterson.
Grand Lake Trail Grooming manages the snowmobile trails, including the strip through Rocky Mountain. Trail foreman Cam Stone said the late opening may not be typical, but it’s not unexpected.
“They just haven’t gotten the snow the park needs to get the trail open,” Stone said.
Stone has been grooming Grand Lake trails since 2003. He said the trail generally opens in December, though there have been outlier years like this one. He said the concerns come from people eager to use the trail.
“Even on Thanksgiving, I had people telling me the trail should be open,” Stone said. “It’s pretty popular with a lot of people.”
Grand Lake has also had some issues with the main road. While snowmobiles are allowed in town, a stretch of Grand Avenue was plowed down to the pavement this week.
In a town where snowmobiles can be as prevalent as cars when the weather allows, the combination of the street plowing and trail closure meant less snowmobile accessibility over the holidays.
According to Public Works Director Keith Everhart, the cold weather in Grand Lake turned the snowpack to ice and threatened the safety of drivers and pedestrians. The dangerous conditions combined with the fact that the town trail has not yet opened contributed to the decision to plow Grand Avenue to Ellsworth Street.
“That’s the reason why we’re trying to think of the public before we think of the snowmobiles,” Everhart said.
The snowpack isn’t only for snowmobiles. The main reason the town keeps a layer is for the insulation it provides to shallow water and sewer lines.
Everhart said further plowing would be determined by what the weather brings: hopefully slightly warmer temperatures and more snow.
“It is not the town’s intention to continue to plow to the pavement,” read an announcement from Grand Lake. “This is a short-term solution.”
Despite the trail closure, the National Forest trails are open to snowmobiles and the higher elevation trails can be accessed directly at the Forest Service trailheads. The latest information on the status of all Grand Lake trails can be found at http://www.GrandLakeTrailGroomers.com.
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