Having barriers removed

Dear Editor,

Approximately a decade ago the Ouray Trail Group was threatened with a lawsuit by a recently arrived landowner who had acquired a large group of mining claims north of Ouray. The reason for the threatened lawsuit was that the Trail Group had, over the previous few years, restored an historic trail that crossed several of those claims. The landowner wanted that trail closed and all traces of it removed from the Trail Group’s popular trail map.

The Gold Belt trail was originally surveyed and constructed by the County in 1889 and later maintained by the Forest Service through the 1960s. A challenge to maintain, the trail later gradually fell out of regular use until the Trail Group began work on it in 2000. Though the 2005 closure was illegal, at the time the County had neither procedures in place nor historical documentation readily available to quickly make that determination. As a result the trail remained closed for several years.

Recognizing that the public interest was not being well served by this situation, the Board of County Commissioners in 2008 authorized the formation of an advisory panel to research the history of the roads and trails throughout the County. With representatives from the Trail Group, Forest Service, Historical Society, County Staff and other interested groups, the Public Access Group collectively spent thousands of hours on this task. The impressive result was a map and associated database locating and identifying over one hundred historic roads and trails that were determined to be open to public access throughout the County. The BOCC formally adopted this map in 2014 after extensive public hearings and discussions.

In an interesting and disappointing development a new closure has recently appeared on this same trail, albeit in a different location than previously. Late last fall or early this spring a new barrier was placed across the Gold Belt trail approximately one mile above the trailhead. The barrier is in a location that makes bypassing it a difficult and likely dangerous challenge, and hikers getting to this point should not attempt to go around it.

After being notified of its existence, County staff members have taken the first steps in the process of having the barrier removed. If all goes well - and thanks to the work of the Public Access Group and BOCC - this closure will be resolved in a matter of weeks or months rather than the years it took a decade ago.

Bob Risch
Ouray Trail Group