CITY OF BOULDER
OPEN SPACE AND MOUNTAIN PARKS
2520 55th Street
Boulder, CO 80301
16 November 2018
Public Comment on the OSMP Master Plan focus area RESPONSIBLE RECREATION
To Whom It May Concern:
The beautiful, wild, and refreshing scenery of our spectacular Colorado Front Range with the Rocky Mountain backdrop and our predictable weather has drawn a population to Boulder that is very focused on outdoor recreation.
Allowing these people to recreate on open space from home instead of forcing them to drive elsewhere in their cars helps increase the quality of life in the community, reduce traffic, and meet ambitious climate protection goals set by the City of Boulder.
The physical and mental benefits of recreating outdoors are undisputed. People head onto open space to exercise, develop skills, recharge, enjoy themselves, and have fun. Recreating on open space has been proven to reduce digital addiction and nature deficit disorder among the young generation – the people who will one day take over open space protection and management from us.
Outdoor recreation is an effective way of connecting people with the land that teaches them to be responsible and protect it as a precious resource. Folks who experience the benefits of recreation on open space are more likely to support raising taxes and spending public money on protecting more land.
Mountainbikers are better organized than most other recreational trail user groups and have helped protect open space for recreation and public enjoyment for decades. Locally, the Boulder Mountainbike Alliance is donating hundreds of hours of volunteer labor every year to make trails on open space more sustainable and improve the surrounding nature habitat. We have developed relationships with land management agencies throughout Boulder County, and we appreciate the opportunity to provide input on this focus area of the OSMP Master Plan.
Supporting Enjoyable Recreation and Maintaining and Improving Trails and Visitor Facilities
Visiting open space should be a positive experience from the moment people are researching the area online by getting detailed, accurate, and current information on their destination so they can make an informed decision on where to recreate. The visitor infrastructure and the trail system should allow them to have a safe and enjoyable passive recreation experience that may leave them tired but satisfied and happy.
While OSMP is no Parks and Recreation department, we believe that it has a greater, more active role to play than simply support enjoyable recreation. Visitors should feel encouraged to build skills and take on new challenges which improve their personal connection to the natural world.
As more people settle in the Front Range, more land should be set aside for open space, more land opened for responsible passive outdoor recreation, more trail miles constructed to decrease crowding, and the existing trails made more sustainable.
The Master Plan should direct staff to continue acquiring land not only to protect it from development but also with the goal of adding many miles of new trails for responsible passive outdoor recreation. Trail density should be higher on parcels of lesser quality habitat with, for instance, a network of stacked loops as part of a trail system that offers different difficulty levels, so trail users can pick the route that best matches their abilities.
New trails should be carefully planned and laid-out taking people where they want to go while directing them away from important habitat. New trails should be built with sustainability in mind using modern techniques that result in reduced maintenance requirements. In the process, each trail segment should be evaluated how it could be made more interesting and fun and to increase the trail user experience based on the targeted user group, for instance by avoiding perfectly straight segments. A trail open for mountainbikes should have different features than a hiking-only trail, and, for instance, be outfitted with undulations, bermed turns, and interesting rock features, which are arranged if the terrain permits to offer alternate lines of increasing challenges if a rider desires to work on their skills.
The recent Trail Conditions Index identified nearly 2/3 of existing trails in the system as in need of significant repair, major restoration, or even a reroute or move. Many of these trails are in disrepair because in years past they were not built according to modern standards, they are old farm or mining roads, or former game or social trails that eventually were designated. This means that 2/3 of the trails on OSMP land offer the opportunity of undergoing significant improvement not only of the trail experience but also the surrounding habitat. Trails too close to sensitive habitat should be moved; trails in unsustainable location should be rerouted; and trails that require significant regular maintenance should be rebuilt to become more sustainable. In the process they should be outfitted with features similar to those discussed for new trails above to increase the trail user experience based on the targeted user group.
Trail building and maintenance should employ a diverse set of resources that includes staff, contractors, volunteers, youth corps, and partnerships with community-based organizations and agencies. Giving back to the trails and the open space is an important message that helps increase people’s connection with the land and deepens their sense of responsibility for its protection.
The Master Plan should further direct staff to address trail connectivity to town, as well as to other trail systems for example on Boulder County, Jefferson County, Grand County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, or US Forest Service land with the goal of establishing a robust regional trail network. This gives people an incentive to leave their vehicle in the driveway, not increase traffic, not require a parking space at the trailhead, but also reduce their carbon footprint.
BMA welcomes the recent introduction of the Trail Access Information and Difficulty as well as the Trail Management Objectives (TMO) systems for data collection. In addition, OSMP should continue conducting regular visitor surveys to gain an objective understanding of visitor experiences. Altogether this data should be used to improve passive recreation opportunities and identify barriers to access or enjoyment.
The Master Plan should require open space management be based on data that was acquired using science and management best practice, because what we are not measuring (monitoring) we will never be able to manage effectively. A proven management concept for the data driven approach is the Limits of Acceptable Change, which BMA submitted on 26 March 2018 as an earlier public comment on the Master Plan. Only a science-based and data-driven approach provides transparency and accountability, which are required for people to have trust in the process and the results.
Managing the Effects of Recreation
A well-planned and well-designed network of trails that are purpose-built in a sustainable fashion and maintained as required sets a solid foundation for greatly reduced effects of recreation on the infrastructure.
Property and trail management strategies should be developed in cooperation with other regional and national land management agencies as well as user groups such as BMA and be continually updated as needed.
For visitors to have high quality experiences, these property and trail management strategies should be employed only if and when the Limits of Acceptable Change are exceeded. Otherwise transparency is not provided and trust in the process and the results are compromised.
OSMP’s own studies have shown that while the number of mountain bikers has increased, the number of complaints about bikers has not. This is in no small part because of the many years of persistent community outreach and trail user education by the Boulder Mountainbike Patrol (BMBP) and the Boulder Mountainbike Alliance (BMA).
Community outreach through organizations like BMA provides a greater reach and promises higher success rate when looking to build a stewardship ethic and a sense of caring for other trail users, plants and animals.
Building relationships and partnerships and coordinating messaging on social media as well as on the ground is a proven way to encourage greater self-compliance with regulations and heighten a sense of community stewardship of the land.
Promulgating awareness of how to effectively share trails, increasing awareness of mutual responsibilities such as the need of bicyclists to slow down and communicate when passing, the need for hikers to be aware of other trail users, or information on Leave No Trace practices, are examples of messages that are significantly more effective in their reach through identical broadcasting from multiple sources.
While promoting the benefits and joys of mountainbiking and seeking to establish equal and fair access for all trail users, BMA has always been primarily a land stewardship organization. We are actively working with the land management agencies in Boulder County to expand and protect our community’s open space legacy.
When looking to the trail building work BMA volunteers have done recently on High Plains and Dowdy Draw that resulted in more sustainable and fun trail segments while reducing their impact on nearby habitat, together with the continuing outreach and education by the Boulder Mountain Bike Patrol, it is obvious we are already practicing successfully what we are proposing to be adopted in OSMP’s Master Plan.
Responsible recreation contributes to the health, both mental and physical, of those who get to visit our wild places, but it relies on a healthy and resilient ecosystem. This is what we hope the overarching theme of the Master Plan will be when complete.
Hans Joachim Preiss
Boulder Mountainbike Alliance