By Annie Sewell
Around 20 years ago, a system of user-created trails began to evolve on Jackson Mountain, a roughly 20-square-mile parcel of national forest situated east of Pagosa Springs.
These trails, used primarily by mountain bikers, connected existing logging roads in a network that lacks proper planning or adherence to sustainable trail design. Additionally, the trails do not have authorization from the Forest Service and as such have become a point of contention between the Forest Service and mountain bikers as they gain in use and popularity.
DUST2 advocates for and observes sustainable trail development following the legal process and it is because of this that DUST2 began advocating for the Jackson Mountain trail system’s official recognition by the Forest Service.
After two years of advocacy, education, meetings and fundraising, DUST2 received significant support from the town, county and other entities for the potential development of a Jackson Mountain trail system. As a first step, DUST2 decided to raise funds to help the Forest Service pay for the analysis that would be required to evaluate the possibility of designating a trail system, should the Forest Service agree to take on the project.
In March, it came to DUST2’s attention that the San Juan National Forest had selected the Jackson Mountain area to be part of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLR). This collaborative program provides an opportunity for organizations, partners and other stakeholders to work with the Forest Service on large-scale restoration efforts. The Forest Service also informed DUST2 that consideration of a mountain bike trail system would be included in the CFLR analysis.
By May of 2021, DUST2 had raised funds for the Forest Service to undertake the required analysis of developing a trail system on Jackson Mountain. After recent discussions with the Forest Service, it became apparent that rather than paying for the analysis itself, the funds DUST2 generated would be better spent hiring a professional trail plan and design firm to provide consultation and assistance with trail design and layout. DUST2 solicited bids from professional design firms and contractors to assist in identifying sustainable and fun trail corridors to be included in the Jackson Mountain CFLR project/analysis. Because of its expert understanding of the NEPA process and its extensive experience working directly with multiple agencies, organizations and other stakeholders to develop trail networks to address potential concerns and minimize unwanted impacts, DUST2 chose the International Mountain Bike Association Trail Solutions team.
If approved, the proposed Jackson Mountain trail system will be the first trail system that can be reached from downtown Pagosa Springs that offers technical and advanced riding opportunities which our current trail networks lack (in addition to trails suitable for all skill levels). Not only this, but the proposed Jackson Mountain trails will have the potential to connect with our existing trail systems in and around Pagosa Springs, providing miles of diverse riding opportunities for both locals and visitors to our town.
We are grateful for all the support we have received to date and to the Forest Service for helping us navigate the often-complicated processes associated with moving a proposal such as this forward. And while it is just a proposal at this point and outcomes are never guaranteed when it comes to environmental planning and analyses, we are thrilled to have gotten this far. Stay tuned.