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Call to Action Details from Boulder Horse

 
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 06, 2010 3:23 pm    Post subject: Call to Action Details from Boulder Horse Reply with quote

Boulder Horse Trails: a Primer and a Call to Action

Background

A hundred years ago, the City of Boulder acquired Mountain Park land immediately west of the city, and subsequently added thousands of acres of Open Space which now surrounds the city with an extensive network of trails, all of which are currently open to hikers and horses. This program is under the jurisdiction of the Boulder City Council. (Separately, Boulder County started its Open Space program and purchased other properties which also have extensive non-motorized trails and are under the jurisdiction of the Boulder County Commissioners. In some areas the two programs have common boundaries, which can be confusing.) The present issue only involves the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks property.

Actors and Acronyms

BHCA is the Boulder County Horse Association. They, naturally, have strong objections to the horse-excluding plans proposed by others.

WTSA is the West Trail Study Area. It is the extensive area of land west of the City of Boulder and north of the Eldorado Canyon road. Sometimes it is also referred to as the West TSA, just the TSA, or the Trail Study Area.

CCG is the Community Collaborative Group, which consists of stakeholders chosen during a contentious process to represent recreationists (that’s us), conservationists, neighborhoods, cultural resources, and the OSMP Department. At the beginning, almost a year ago, it agreed that all of its recommendations would have to be by 100% consensus of all the members (about 15). Its recommendations will go to the OSBT for discussion and approval, and then to the Boulder City Council. The CCG reached consensus on some general trail issues and on dogs, but not on bikes. They also agreed on certain horse issues but did not agree on many others.

OSBT is the Open Space Board of Trustees. It is their job to approve or modify staff and CCG recommendations before submitting them to the Boulder City Council.

OSMP is the Open Space and Mountain Parks staff. It makes recommendations to the OSBT. They have set forth a draft horse management plan which, in effect, is a position paper. It contains many factual errors.

VMP is the Visitor Master Plan. It was completed in 2005 after a long and arduous process, and states clearly that “the entire trail system is open to pedestrians and equestrians.” It also states that off-trail travel is allowed for pedestrians and equestrians in Natural Areas (NAs) and Passive Recreation Areas (PRAs). The VMP is one of many “sideboards,” which are agreements reached during previous planning processes that must be honored in the West TSA.

The Conservation Caucus is a group of citizens whose main focus is preservation of the natural environment in the WTSA. They feel that trails have detrimental impacts to ecosystems and are generally opposed to mountain bikers, dogs, horses, and other human beings. They have written a position paper (supported by staff) stating that horses should be banned except where they are specifically allowed, claiming that was the intent of the Boulder City Charter in 1985. (However, the more recent VMP clarifies horse access and there have been several recent precedents allowing horses as the default position on OSMP.)

The Recreation Caucus is a group of citizens who represent predominantly mountain bikers, trail runners, hikers, and dog guardians. Equestrian representation was officially placed under the representative for trail runners, and to an “alternate” who has been prevented from speaking during all but one of the CCG meetings. They have written a very detailed position paper which discusses the various trails and lack of equestrian parking.

The Issue

The staff at OSMP and the Conservation Caucus have decided that horses should be excluded from much of the mountainous area, confining them instead to the more gently-sloping, mostly prairie land on the east side of WTSA. Staff has also taken the stance that they will provide essentially no parking suitable for horse trailers, resulting in the oxymoronic situation that some trails (such as at Flagstaff Summit, Chautuaqua, Anemone, and Sanitas) will remain open to equestrians but there will be no place to park. (The CCG recommended that staff use “best efforts” to find trailer parking in these areas, but staff has resisted this recommendation). The Department’s proposals are mostly arbitrary, including what staff calls its needs “to provide a quality equestrian experience,” to build all trails open to horses to an unrealistic and unnecessary high standard, and to turn down trailer parking because of the “cost” – factors which are not being imposed on any other user group. The horse community has attacked these plans in detail, demonstrating in many cases that the OSMP’s proposals are seriously flawed.

The upshot is that while equestrians have had historic access to 100% of the West TSA, if the CCG process is allowed to stand we will be restricted to less than half of the entire area.

It should be noted that staff and the CCG have agreed that horses should still be allowed on some great trails in the West TSA, including the South Mesa Trail area, the Mesa Trail and some trails east of it. Others, such as Chautauqua, Flagstaff Summit, Anemone/Red Rocks, and Sanitas Valley, offer excellent equestrian opportunities but are short and isolated, and are currently inaccessible because of the horse trailer parking situation. We are also being “allowed” to keep the privilege of riding off-trail (subject to seasonal closures for birds) in certain – but limited -- parts of the West TSA.

The real issue is that horses are being arbitrarily banned from vast areas of historic and current “equestrian habitat,” including old wagon roads and areas of off-trail access, with no justification or any attempts at negotiation. For once, the issues don’t even seem to be that horses spread weeds, trample the birds or scare the deer, or intimidate the citizenry. The rationale now being offered is merely that many trails don’t offer a quality equestrian experience, without even having asked us what might constitute a quality equestrian experience. Since there is currently no horse trailer parking in the West TSA, we offered to trade current access to some undesirable (e.g. steep, eroded,or dead-end) trails for some enhanced parking, and to keep other historic trails open with enhanced maintenance or re-routing. We even offered a grant to pay for parking, but the Department has been unwilling to budge.

The even bigger issue is that this process could set a precedent for arbitrarily banning horses from other areas of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks.

Note: Some parts of OSMP, particularly east of Broadway and south of Eldorado Springs Drive, are also open to mountain bikes. However, bikes have been excluded from the WTSA. Erosion on some of the steeper parts of the West TSA trails has been controlled by spacing timbers only a few feet apart, making these stretches unsuitable for bikers but (mostly) fine for hikers and horses. However, the mountain bikers have asked for a north-south trail through the West TSA that would connect Boulder with Eldorado Springs. Whether mountain bikes will be added to the trail mix as a result of the current planning process has no bearing on the horse issues. Regardless of your feelings about mountain bikes, we urge any equestrians who participate in the upcoming meetings and/or who may choose to write letters, to please not criticize or attack any other user group. It won’t help us, and it will undermine what support we may gain from the other recreation groups.

Want more info?

For official information, visit the West TSA’s very own website .

What We Can Do

The world is run by those who show up. Yet the horse community has had trouble “turning out the troops” -- in stark contrast to the dog owners, the trail runners, and the mountain bikers, who have been very vocal, very organized, very numerous, and very savvy.

If you care about the future of trail riding on Boulder’s Open Space, please attend one or more of the following meetings:

December 6, 2010. OSMP and the CCG will host a public open house at the East Boulder Community Center (5660 Sioux Drive, 303-441-4400) from 6:00 – 9:00 pm. The open house will be the public’s best opportunity to learn more about the package of preliminary CCG recommendations, ask questions, and offer your input to the CCG. Very important public meeting.

December 9, 2010. The OSBT will have a regular board meeting at the West Senior Center (909 Arapaho, 303-441-3148) starting at 6 p.m. to determine the format for the December 15th study session. They will not be discussing the preliminary package of CCG recommendation at this meeting. There will be an opportunity for public comment at the beginning of this important meeting.

December 15, 2010. The OSBT will hold a study session at the East Boulder Community Center starting at 6pm to review and discuss the CCG’s preliminary recommendations. Whether or not there will be public comment at this meeting is still being debated (!).

January 6, 2011. The CCG will have their final meeting to incorporate input received at the public open house and comments from the board and to complete any final negotiations. This meeting will determine the final set of WTSA recommendations. Probable time, 5:30-9:30; probable location, East Boulder Community Center.

January 19, 2011. The CCG will meet with the OSBT and present the final package of West TSA recommendations for their consideration. Location and time TBA.

If you really can’t make it to any of the meetings, you may email
• the Open Space Board of Trustees by going to the OSBT website and clicking on “Send a Message to the Board”;
• the Open Space Department at
OSMPcorrespondence@bouldercolorado.gov
• and the Boulder City Council (the ultimate arbiter of all things Boulder including this West TSA plan) at council@bouldercolorado.gov

It’s not necessary to know all the gory details of all this stuff. Whether you attend the meetings or write to the Powers that Be, the important thing is to state that you are an equestrian, you want enhanced horse access and adequate trailer parking, and that you support the Recommendations of the Recreation Caucus regarding horses in the West TSA.

To identify yourself “visually” as a member of the horse community, wear a bridle or a halter over your shoulder (and a white hat if you have one)! Stand up and be proud! But a final note: Be firm, be constructive, and express your frustration with the seemingly arbitrary process and results, if you want to…. but please be polite and respectful. No personal attacks, no criticism of any other user group.

Deal? Hope to see you there. Your participation will make all the difference.
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