John Scarffe, Boulder
Boulder and Gilpin counties could be getting a new 44-mile non-motorized trail system across 6,000 acres. On Thursday, August 25, 2016, the United States Forest Service issued its final environmental assessment and a Draft Decision Notice regarding the proposed Magnolia Trail System, with an October 11, 2016 deadline for written objections. The proposed trail system with improved connectivity and sustainability would be created in an area along the Peak to Peak Highway known as East Magnolia and West Magnolia.
The Forest Service inventoried trails in the area and discovered the area now has only 16 miles of existing National Forest system trails but has 46 miles of non-system or “user-created” trails, according to Forest Service news releases. The project area totals about 6,000 acres on the Boulder Ranger District of the Roosevelt National Forest in Boulder and Gilpin Counties, according to the Draft Decision Notice.
“The project occurs predominantly on National Forest System (NFS) lands, but there are interspersed private and Boulder County lands.” The project area is on both sides of the intersection of highways 72 and 119 and Magnolia Road. “The western portion of the intersection is known locally as Haul Road,” according to the Draft Decision Notice “The eastern portion is also along Magnolia Road, known as Highway 132. “This project area is located between the town of Nederland to the north and the town of Rollinsville to the south. The project extends south to Gilpin County Road 16 and west to private lands.” The draft decision creates access from the trail system to the community of Nederland through connecting trails that don’t currently exist, allowing trail users to easily visit a restaurant downtown, according to the Forest Service releases. Reid Armstrong, public affairs officer with Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, said a trail that connects Big Springs to Magnolia Road will remain part of the system in this draft decision.
Other regional trail connections outlined in the draft include connecting the Magnolia Trail System to the Toll Conservation Easement Trail to Jenny Creek Trail, which would allow a nonmotorized connection all the way to the Continental Divide on trails, and it will connect to Boulder County Open Space’s Reynolds Ranch as that trail system develops over time, according to the releases. Boulder District Ranger Sylvia Clark will sign the final decision for the project following the deadline for objections. “This draft Decision Notice documents my intended decision and my rationale for approving the proposed Magnolia Non-Motorized Trails project. My decision is based on and supported by the August 2016 Magnolia Non-Motorized Trails Project Environmental Assessment (EA). “The Finding of No Significant Impact included in the EA supports the determination that the alternative that I intend to select is not anticipated to have a significant impact on the human or natural environment and, therefore, an environmental impact statement is not required.”
The Environmental Assessment was written by a team of specialists, according to Armstrong, with Clark listed as the responsible official. The team wrote: “I have considered both the beneficial and adverse impacts as presented in the EA if the Proposed Action were implemented. The Proposed Action would provide recreational benefits to many users of the Forest and would improve recreation opportunities on NFS lands. “Though some neighboring landowners may believe that these recreation opportunities affect them negatively, this does not rise to a level of significance, nor would I make a decision on anything but NFS lands.” In the EA the team wrote that Clark will work collaboratively with neighboring landowners during the design and layout of trails, and that impacts to recreation, water, wetlands, soils, vegetation and wildlife are determined to be non-significant. The trail system proposed will, to a small extent, improve effective wildlife habitat by removing miles of social trails and eliminating cross country travel. “This, therefore, does not negatively impact wildlife dependent on effective habitat while providing an enhanced non-motorized recreation opportunity,” according to the EA. “My finding of no significant environmental effects is not biased by the beneficial effects of the action. “The proposed action would not significantly affect public health or safety, but would improve signing to help the public understand what type of trail they might encounter and would help the public negotiate the trail system with less likelihood of getting lost. Trails would be designed to not only be sustainable, but would be designed for an enjoyable and safe trail experience.”
The proposed trail system would include improved signage, new restrooms, expanded parking at Front Range and West Magnolia trailheads, a winter grooming opportunity for Nordic skiing and fat tire biking as well as facilities for horse trailers at West Magnolia Trailhead, according to the Forest Service releases. While creating the trail system, 29 miles of existing user-created trails and any new user-created trail discovered during implementation would be obliterated. The draft decision eliminates snowmobiles in the project area and restricts equestrian and bicycle users to designated trails, according to the releases. The decision includes an adaptive management approach, which allows the Forest Service to make adjustments in the implementation of this project as needed. Implementation, which could take five to 10 years, will be completed in phases by working with partners, according to the releases. The project will start on the West Magnolia side of the Peak to Peak Highway as outlined in the decision.
Work on the Magnolia trails project where it overlaps with the proposed Forsythe II forest health project will be postponed until analysis is complete and the decision on that project is finalized. According to the Draft Decision Notice, the Forest Service requested comments on its proposed action in August 2013. An information meeting at the Nederland Community Center was conducted in August during the comment period. More than 300 comment letters were received, with nearly as many unique comments. “Many commenters were interested in having the Forest Service enable trail connectivity to Rollins Pass,” according to the Decision Notice. “In response to requests for connectivity, and with the agreement between the Toll family (private landowners) and Boulder County to establish the Toll Conservation Easement Trail to the south and west of the project area, the Forest Service revised its proposed action by expanding the project area south and west, adding an estimated 1,700 acres. “Public comments received on the proposed action sent to the public in 2015 caused a modification to the proposed action by putting Social Trail 4 back into the proposed action. This trail provides a connection to the community of Nederland from the East Magnolia zone.”
Those who previously provided written comments on the project now have until midnight on October 11 to review the documents and submit written objections. The complete draft decision, final environmental analysis and information about the objection process are available online at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/arp/ MagnoliaTrails. Objections may be mailed, handdelivered, faxed or e-mailed to: USDA Forest Service Region 2, Rocky Mountain Region, Attn: Strategic Planning – Objection Reviewing Officer, 740 Simms Street, Golden, CO 80401-4720; Fax: 303-275-5134; Email: email@example.com