The U.S. Forest Service is going forward with plans for a 44-mile, non-motorized trail system across about 6,000 acres branching out from the Peak to Peak Highway near Nederland.

The project, known as the Magnolia Non-Motorized Trails Project, was approved in the same form as a draft decision on the proposal, which was issued in August.

There are currently about 60 miles of trail in the project area. That includes 14 miles of national forest system trails plus about 46 miles of non-system or user-created trails, which are not sanctioned by the Forest Service.

"The decision allows the Forest Service to optimize trail experiences to meet user demand," Boulder Ranger District recreation manager Matt Henry said in a prepared statement.

"As the Front Range population continues to increase, people are going to seek places to recreate. By providing a sustainable, accessible and well-connected trail system, we can get ahead of that trend, and better protect wildlife and the environment in the process."

The decision permits improved trailheads, including bathrooms and expanded parking at West Magnolia and Front Range trailheads, plus facilities for horse trailers at West Magnolia Trailhead as well as new signage. It also bans snowmobiles, and restricts bikes and horses to designated trails in the project area.


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Additionally, it provides an opportunity to groom non-motorized trails in winter for Nordic skiing and fat tire biking.

The decision was welcomed Wednesday by Mike Barrow, advocacy director for the Boulder Mountainbike Alliance, who said it was the product of 10 years of hard work.

"Boulder Mountainbike Alliance, as a trusted partner with the Boulder Ranger District (of the Arapahoe & Roosevelt National Forest), began discussions in 2006 when the pine beetle took hold of the forest in this area," he said in an email.

"We had been in the multi-year process of implementing the travel management plan and knew that dead trees and a fuel treatment project would change the landscape significantly. This was an opportunity to be good stewards of our public lands and to create something severely lacking in the Boulder County region... a stacked loop system that could deliver a varied and high quality recreation experience."

Trail access into Nederland

The decision also facilitates access from the trail system into Nederland through new connecting trails, enabling trail users to conveniently visit businesses downtown.

Numerous other trail connections in the project link the Magnolia Trail System to the Toll Conservation Easement Trail and then on to the to Jenny Creek Trail. That would allow non-motorized connections to the Continental Divide by trail.

The Boulder Ranger District reviewed 17 objection letters over the past month, according to a news release, highlighting concerns over camping, trash, wildlife, law enforcement, monitoring, social trails and funding. The review found that the decision and underlying analysis are consistent with forest service regulations, policy and law.

District Ranger Sylvia Clark stated in a news release that she knew not everyone would applaud her decision.

"This is why I have included a collaborative approach to trail layout in the design criteria, utilizing input from user groups, landowners and other agencies," she said.

"In this way, we will be able to design great trails for recreation while taking into account landowner needs and wildlife concerns. Furthermore, an adaptive management approach written into the decision allows us to adjust the system based on social and environmental concerns as they arise in the future."

Dallas Masters, a Nederland town trustee and chair of the town's Parks, Recreation & Open Space Advisory Board, said the plan has some critics in Nederland. But he appreciates that Clark has communicated well with the town and done so in a collaborative spirit.

"I have heard both positive and negative comments about it, but from the point of view from the town of Nederland, we think it's a good project and we are looking forward to the recreational and economic benefits it would bring," Masters said.

But who will pay?

An unresolved question around the project concerns its potential cost. Boulder Ranger District spokeswoman Reid Armstrong said a number of factors could cause the final price tag to vary.

She also said that the Forest Service heavily utilizes volunteers in such projects. Last year, according to Armstrong, volunteers donated 22,000 hours to the district, valued at $516,000.

Barrow said the USFS doesn't have enough resources to make it happen, without significant help.

"It is up to the community to fundraise, grant write and build this system for the generations that will follow," he said.

In an interview, Barrow said he's confident it will cost "over a million, to say the least. ... There's infrastructure that needs to go in, parking lots, they need to move around the gates, they're actually going to put restrooms. If you're going to invite the public to come in, you have to give them a way to not trash that place. It's really taken it on the chin in the last 25 years."

Public-private partnerships are an increasingly common necessity for the Forest Service, Barrow said, and his organization is one of those resolved to pitch in. It will use both funds remaining from an earlier grant it had received, plus hoped-for money from another grant request still pending before the Colorado Parks & Wildlife state trails committee.

"Simply stated, the Forest Service has been reduced to a firefighting organization," he said. "They get less and less money every year and more and more put on their plate.

"Boulder Mountainbike Alliance is trying to take a leadership role in this effort," Barrow added. "We're working with the Nederland Area Trails Organization, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers and anybody else that is passionate about maintaining the forest in Boulder County."

Charlie Brennan: 303-473-1327, brennanc@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/chasbrennan