The Rico Trails Project has gained preliminary approval from the Dolores Ranger District of the San Juan National Forest.
The draft decision and document that found no significant environmental impact, triggers a 45-day objection period that started Nov. 4.
Dolores District Ranger Derek Padilla chose to implement Alternative 3, which would authorize construction and maintenance of 9 miles of new motorized and non-motorized trails, and decommission 10 miles of non-motorized trails.
The trails are in the vicinity of Rico and the Dolores River Valley.
The plan designates two new trails — the 6.1-mile motorized Spring Creek Trail, and 2.6-mile non-motorized Circle Trail.
On the Ryman Creek Trail, 2.5 miles would be realigned for stability and to allow for a more gradual climb. The trail would go under a seasonal closure from May 15 to June 30 to protect elk calving areas.
The new Spring Creek Trail will be single-track motorized and provide access from Stoner Creek to the Taylor Mesa road system.
It will replace the existing 3.5 mile non-motorized Spring Creek Trail, which will be decommissioned to protect the creek fishery. The trail follows the bottom of the creek and threatens water quality for fish species, forest officials said.
A 6-mile portion the non-motorized Stoner Creek Trail from private land along Colorado Highway 145 to the intersection of the proposed Spring Creek Trail is proposed for closure because of limited use and access, said San Juan Forest Planner Tom Rice.
“It gets very little use,” he said.
There is no access from private land at Stoner on Colorado 145, and the closure reduces the footprint of trails in the forest and maintenance costs.
A three-quarter mile segment of the Stoner Creek Trail would be changed from single-track non-motorized to single-track motorized to provide a motorized loop connection from Taylor Mesa to Stoner Mesa. An armored low water crossing would be constructed and maintained for the crossing of Stoner Creek.
“The new trails open up good loop opportunities for motorized users,” Rice said.
The single-track, motorized segment of the Stoner Creek Trail from the east end of West Twin Springs Trail to the intersection with East Twin Springs Trail, would remain open for motorized use as currently designated.
Forest officials considered designating it as non-motorized, but the small acreage of habitat protection (350 acres) that could have been gained was determined to not be justified, relative to the recreation benefit that the existing trail provides, and would offer in conjunction with the new Spring Creek motorized trail.
The non-motorized Circle Trail, at the end of the Silver Creek Road in Rico, will be added back to the forest trail system, according to the plan. The 2.6-mile trail is popular with locals and connects with the Colorado Trail.
It is not clear why it was removed from the trail system in the 1980s, Rice said, and will require minimal improvements to bring it back up to national forest standards.
The Rio Grande Southern Trail, a component of the proposed action, is being considered in a separate decision.
Rice said an Memorandum of Agreement is being drawn up with the State Historical Preservation Office for the trail to mitigate potential impacts on historic railroad structures.
The proposed Rio Grande Southern Trail would provide connection from Rico to the existing Scotch Creek trailhead and Salt Creek/Ryman trailhead.
The trail would generally follow the alignment of the former Rio Grande Southern rail line, parallel to and west of the Dolores River. A bridge crossing over the river is proposed to provide access to Scotch Creek trailhead. The existing Montelores Bridge would provide access to the Salt Creek/Ryman trailhead. The proposed trail would be 4.32 miles in length.
Interpretive signs would explain the railroad history.
Construction of the Rico Trail Project is pending the results and ending of the objection period, along with adequate funding.