Silverton is taking a major step in getting its network of trails in order.
Louis Fineberg, Silverton’s town manager, said Tuesday that the town hadn’t updated its travel plan since 2004, which catalogs existing trail networks and what types of recreation can occur on them.
When the town caught wind that the Bureau of Land Management was planning on doing the same for trails located on the agency’s managed land, Fineberg said the town wanted to take a proactive approach.
“We wanted to create our community vision so we could just hand (the BLM) our planning document and say this is what we would like,” Fineberg said.
The town of Silverton held its first planning session to envision the future of its trails in February, drawing nearly 40 people from all user groups, such as mountain bikers, hikers, all-terrain vehicle users and horseback riders.
“The purpose of that meeting was to update our existing trail data,” Fineberg said. “We laid out a few paper maps, and we asked people to draw on the maps where they know where trails are.”
The town will now compile that information into a GIS map, and once it’s done, the town will have its first comprehensive base map for the area’s trails, Fineberg said.
The next planning session is 6 p.m. May 8 at the Kendall Community Center.
Fineberg said one of the major benefits in this effort, aside from having a complete catalogue of recreational trails, is the ability to develop new trails.
“It’s not a mystery that the mining industry has declined here, and Silverton really needs to focus on a new economic development strategy, and outdoor recreation is certainly a part of that,” he said.
By mapping out all the trails and bringing all the different user groups together, the town can more accurately document what exists, and any potential new opportunities for recreation through grants.
Fineberg said the community meeting illustrated a clear need to build connector trails to expand the area’s network.
“The idea being if you have a unified network, you can create all kinds of trips without building many new trails,” he said.
DeAnne Gallegos, director of the Silverton Area Chamber of Commerce, also said the effort has a huge economic and marketing benefit.
“The ultimate goal is to connect all those mountain ranges and have a true user experience that is navigable, obvious and has a trail map,” Gallegos said.
The town of Silverton’s planning comes as the BLM readies to begin to draft the first travel management plan for its lands around Silverton.
As per BLM process, each area has a “Resource Management Plan,” which is the overall guiding document for the specific region. A “Travel Management Plan” is a subset of that document.
Elijah Waters, Gunnison Office Field Manager for BLM, said a travel management plan identifies what trails are in an area, and what uses are allowed, which can include restrictions on type of travel or seasonal closures.
There’s never been a travel management plan for around Silverton, he said.
Waters said the BLM will be an active and listening participant as the community develops its own vision. Once that’s finished, the BLM intends to start its travel management plan.
“Their process doesn’t take the place of ours, but I think they are doing a lot of the heavy lifting early,” Waters said. “Our intent is to take their product and use that as basis for our proposed action.”
Waters hopes the BLM has that complete by May 2019. The process would go through the National Environmental Policy Act and a public comment period.
Cam Hooley, spokeswoman for the U.S. National Forest, also said that agency is looking to update its travel management plan for areas around Silverton. Yet that effort likely won’t start for a couple of years, she said.
When user groups get together to hash out where and when their preferred recreational activities are allowed, there is often conflict, but Fineberg said this process, fortunately, has been smooth.
“It’s better to include everyone in the process,” he said. “We need to learn to live with each other. So far there hasn’t been anything negative.”