Guest Opinion published in the Daily Camera on July 14, 2019
By Tony Gannaway and Wendy Sweet
An important appointment to the City of Boulder’s five-member Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT) will be made this Tuesday July 16 by City Council. The current balance on this board is tipped towards an ideology that views conservation and recreation on our Open Space lands as antithetical, with two ultra-conservationists, one moderate conservationist and two trustees representing the recreation community. Recently, one of the recreation-friendly board members, Andria Bilich, has resigned, as she and her family are moving out of state. We are concerned that her replacement will be another stridently anti-recreational access candidate. If you engage in any of the following activities on Open Space, you too should be concerned: trail running, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding or dog walking—your access to Open Space depends on the decisions that are made by this board and by City Council.
We have only to recall the West Trail Study Area (WTSA) and, earlier, the original Visitor Master Plan, wherein responsible passive recreational users experienced significant losses because a slim majority of Open Space Trustees and City Council members at the time viewed conservation and many forms of recreation as fundamentally incompatible. And, for the most recent example of the divergent visions of Open Space that exist in our community, look no further than the North Trail Study Area (NTSA) process in 2016 and its hotly debated North Sky Trail, an important connector trail on the west side of Highway 36 that was narrowly adopted into the final plan. Two of the current Open Space Trustees and a now-city council member along with extreme preservation groups came out fiercely against this trail, even though much of this former railroad grade has existed for decades and is used daily by runners, hikers and equestrians. In spite of this pressure, the North Sky Trail was approved. Given the current composition of both OSBT and City Council, this definitely would not have been the case if voted on again today.
In fact, some groups that favor greater restrictions to our current access and some on City Council are currently advocating ideas that would have an immense, negative impact on our use of Open Space. These suggestions include pre-dawn/post-dusk closures (do you run or walk your dog in the early-morning hours or after work in the winter?), no off-trail travel (do you climb or scramble in the Flatirons and use climber-access trails not shown on any OSMP maps?), and limitations on visitation to address “carrying capacity” (possibly requiring a permit for every visit we make to our taxpayer-funded Open Space?). Also up for debate is whether or not we should continue to acquire properties and manage them as “closed” Open Space while the maintenance backlog for our existing trail system is estimated to be $40 million.
It is unfortunate, but true, that our Open Space has become an ideological battleground—those who tirelessly advocate for more closures and restrictions pitted against those of us who just want to responsibly recreate on and maintain our public, taxpayer-funded lands. We believe that our Open Space trustees should be committed both to the sustainable management of recreational activities and infrastructure on open space, and to maintaining the many ecological, agricultural, and scenic values of these treasured places. Balancing recreation and conservation need not be an “either/or” proposition and framing it as such has created bitter, divisive battles. Sustainable recreation is a vital element of our overall conservation strategy and a key part of why we live in Boulder and continue to tax ourselves to fund Open Space. That’s why this upcoming board appointment is so critical. If you agree, please write to City Council (firstname.lastname@example.org) today asking them to consider the following:
- The recreation community is losing representation on this board with the departure of Andria Bilich. She was appointed by City Council to serve until 2022; in fairness and to honor the intent of that appointment, City Council should choose someone to serve the remainder of her term that is supportive of recreation.
- Your constituents need this board to be a balanced representation of our community, and this representation will provide Council with a mix of viewpoints, which is one of the purposes of the boards and commissions.
- Recreation groups and their members are paying attention to this vote. It does matter deeply to us to have our interests equally represented on the Open Space Board of Trustees.
Tony Gannaway, Secretary FIDOS (Friends Interested in Dogs on Open Space)
Lori Fuller, Board member FIDOS (Friends Interested in Dogs on Open Space)
Rui Ferreira, Chair Flatirons Climbing Council
Matt Samet, Former chair Flatirons Climbing Council Fixed Hardware Review Committee
Greg German, Chair Boulder Climbing Community
Jim Illg, Former Chair Boulder Climbing Community
Marcus Popetz, President Boulder Mountainbike Alliance
Wendy Sweet, Operations Manager Boulder Mountainbike Alliance
Buzz Burrell, member Boulder Trail Runners
Bill Wright, Founder and Race Director for the Rattlesnake Ramble
Bill Briggs, Former OSBT (2006-2011)
Shelley Dunbar, Former OSBT (2012-2016)