SUMMIT COUNTY – In a remarkable year for conservation, the Summit County Open Space and Trails Program (OST) secured protections for 1,257 acres of open space in 2018, preserving wildlife habitat, scenic backcountry character, public recreational access and agricultural lands. Summit County also expanded recreational trails and restored mining-impacted lands and waterways.
"The Summit County Open Space Program completed some monumental work in 2018," Commissioner Thomas Davidson said. "These efforts will help preserve Summit County's natural resources for generations to come."
The County completed 16 open-space land transactions at a cost of about $3.5 million. Highlights include conserving a 1,123-acre ranch north of Silverthorne, the 32-acre Mountain Pride Mine on Baldy and 24 acres adjacent to the Quandary Trailhead. Summit County also continued efforts to protect wetlands and water quality at the south end of the County.
A unique partnership between Summit County, local landowners, and Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) preserved the conservation values and agricultural uses of the 1,123-acre Knorr Ranch on the southwest shores of Green Mountain Reservoir with a land purchase and conservation easement. The conservation easement will remove the potential for 64 home sites on the property and protect the entire property as open space and agricultural land in perpetuity. Summit County also acquired ownership of 505 acres of the ranch.
The Knorr Ranch was one of the largest remaining private land holdings in Summit County. The Knorr family homesteaded in the area adjacent to the Blue River in the late 1800s. When Green Mountain Reservoir was built in the 1940s, they moved the ranch uphill to its current location on Heeney Road. The family has retained its historic home and outbuildings, as well as some of the original ranch acreage. In December, Summit County received an $866,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) to support the conservation of the ranch.
In the Upper Blue Basin, Summit County partnered with the Town of Breckenridge’s open space program on several transactions, including the purchase of the historic Mountain Pride Mine on Baldy. This 32-acre acquisition ensures permanent public access to the Mountain Pride and Pinball Alley Trails, as well as access to popular backcountry ski terrain. Furthermore, in collaboration with the County, Trout Unlimited conducted a project in fall 2018 that diverted water around the mine to improve water quality in Illinois Creek. This project necessitated a reroute of the Pinball Alley Trail, which was completed with staff from the Town of Breckenridge, Summit County and the U.S. Forest Service.
The Town of Breckenridge and Summit County also partnered to acquire 24 acres adjacent to the Quandary Trailhead that will allow for improved alignment of the Quandary and Wheeler trails. Its healthy spruce and fir forests provide high quality wildlife habitat. Also in the southern end of the county, Breckenridge and Summit County continued efforts to protect wetlands, water quality and beaver habitat. Open Space staff have been actively managing the beaver population in the wetland complex at the base of Hoosier Pass to improve wetland habitat and prevent Highway 9 flooding.
In addition to open space parcels, Summit County manages more than 60 miles of paved recreational pathways and natural surface trails. Open Space staff have been working diligently to initiate the next major phase of Recpath construction that will parallel Highway 91 from Copper Mountain to the Climax Mine. In 2018, the County was awarded a $600,000 Colorado the Beautiful grant from the Colorado State Trails program to help construct this new path, along with a $20,000 grant from the local nonprofit Summit Biking Group. These grants are on top of $4.475 million grant awarded by the Federal Highway Administration’s Federal Lands Access Program in 2017. Construction of the three-mile segment begins in 2019, at an estimated cost of $5.9 million. Summit Biking Group also contributed $3,000 toward improved lighting in the Vail Pass Recpath tunnel.
“We are fortunate to have such a well-organized, philanthropic organization like Summit Biking here in the County,” said Open Space and Trails director Brian Lorch. “We can’t thank them enough for all of their support for the Recpath system over the years.”
The Recpath has over 200,000 user visits a year, and costs approximately $200,000 per year to maintain. In collaboration with the Towns of Frisco and Breckenridge, the Recpath is groomed for non-motorized winter recreation between the Frisco Nordic Center and Breckenridge Recreation Center. This free amenity is open to Nordic skiers, fat bikers and walkers.
“The Recpath system continues to be an incredibly popular recreational amenity in Summit County, and we’re looking forward to our ongoing work to expand and improve it for residents and visitors,” OST Director Brian Lorch said.
Over the last two summers, the Open Space Program constructed a new natural surface trail network at the Summit County Resource Allocation Park (SCRAP) near Keystone. The Sage Trail, a 1.5-mile segment built in 2018, now connects the Snake River Bluffs and Buzztail Trails. Public feedback on the new trail system has been overwhelmingly positive, as it provides a new recreation resource for non-motorized trail users near Dillon and Summit Cove. With a predominantly southern exposure, the trails will be some of the first to melt and dry out in the spring.
The SCRAP work could not have been completed without the assistance of Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and numerous local volunteer groups throughout the season. Volunteers also helped remove almost 5 miles of barbed-wire fencing that is detrimental to wildlife in the Lower Blue. Overall, almost 500 volunteers contributed 2,680 hours of work, worth approximately $61,908, to various OST trail-building and conservation initiatives across the county.
Work continued on the Swan River Restoration Project in 2018. Additional revegetation efforts were conducted on the first section of river (Reach A), and gravel removal continued on the second section (Reach B), with 75,000 tons of gravel relocated offsite for use in projects throughout Summit County. To date, nearly 260,000 tons of gravel have been removed from the Reach B site since work began in 2015. Nearly 20,000 cubic yards of soil have been imported, providing critical material for riparian and upland restoration work. Gravel processing is continuing throughout the winter and removal will resume in 2019, as conditions allow and material demand permits. Additional information is available at www.RestoreTheSwanRiver.com and www.SummitCountyCO.gov/SwanRiverBlog.
“We’re so grateful for the support the Summit County community continues to show the Open Space and Trails Program,” Brian Lorch said. "Without the support of our citizens, volunteers and elected officials, many of our program’s accomplishments would not be possible.”
The Summit County Open Space Program is funded by a mill levy approved by voters in four elections, most recently in 2008. This 12-year funding mechanism provides about $1.2 million per year for open space property acquisition.
Established in 1996, the Summit County Open Space Program has preserved the rural mountain character of approximately 17,300 acres of land in Summit County via purchases, donations and conservation easements. For more information, visit the Open Space and Trails Department on the Summit County website at www.SummitCountyCO.gov/openspace, or call Katherine King at 970-668-4061.