Eldorado Canyon to Walker Ranch Connection Feasibility Study
Walker Ranch Area

Eldorado Canyon to Walker Ranch Connection Feasibility Study

A group of three local and state governments have finalized the proposed interagency recommendation for a regional connection between Eldorado Canyon State Park and Walker Ranch.

Final Partner Agency Recommendation – North Route (N1-N2-N4)

After collaboration to complete the feasibility study, careful consideration of the findings, and public input from community stakeholders, the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, Boulder County Parks & Open Space, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) have finalized a recommendation for consideration by Boulder County and City of Boulder open space advisory boards. The three partner agencies affirm their joint recommendation of the North Route (using segments N1-N2-N4) as the preferred alignment for a multi-use trail connection. This alternative is recommended because it completes the multi-use trail connection in a way that best balances the conservation and recreation needs of the area.

The partner agencies also recommend continued collaboration among the city, county, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife stakeholders to develop and implement strategies that mitigate capacity-related issues impacting the greater Eldorado Springs community, and support ensuring that capacity mitigation efforts are in place before the trail is opened to biking.

The partner agencies conducted a questionnaire that indicated 76 percent of respondents supported the preliminary agency recommendation (see additional bullets on public input below). Yet, a theme expressed by many respondents, regardless of their level of support for the trail is that access, local traffic congestion, and parking impacts to the state park and greater Eldorado Springs community need to be addressed before the commitment to plan, design, and construct a multi-use trail connection. The partner agencies recognize that there are implementation challenges, and are confident that collaborative management actions can minimize their impacts.

Challenges

The feasibility study and public comments identified current challenges in Eldorado Canyon. Local and state land management agencies, visitors, and Eldorado Springs residents have been experiencing capacity-related challenges such as congestion, parking, and crowding issues for decades. Over 90% of Eldorado Springs residents who provided feedback did not support the preliminary partner agency proposed recommendation.

The study found that a multi-use trail is likely to increase visitation to Eldorado Canyon State Park and has the potential to worsen current issues. These issues include:

  • Traffic congestion.
  • Strains on transportation infrastructure and infrastructure that does not meet current demands.
  • Illegal parking.
  • Visitor density & crowding.
  • Emergency response difficulties due to crowded roads.
  • Strains on state park and resources.

A next step is to address existing capacity conditions and plan for the future. The shared goal is to continue working on strategies that provide access; connect visitors to enjoyable experiences: address traffic, community and crowding issues; and protect resources.

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Walker Ranch Loop

Next Steps

The city and county open space advisory boards will host public hearings to consider and take action on the preferred alternative for a multi-use trail connection. Community stakeholders may attend these meetings and provide verbal testimony during the public hearing portion of the agenda item.

Boulder County Parks & Open Space Advisory Committee (POSAC)
Thursday, Jan. 24 at 6:30 p.m.

Boulder County Courthouse – Commissioners’ Hearing Room
1325 Pearl Street, Boulder
City of Boulder Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT)
Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 6 p.m.

City of Boulder Municipal Building, Second floor
1777 Broadway, Boulder

In March, the Boulder County Commissioners will hold a public hearing to consider the partner agency recommendation, including the recommendations from POSAC and OSBT, and to make a final determination on the feasibility study and a final recommendation for a multi-use connection. Date and time of the public hearing will be posted when it is finalized.

If a new multi-use alignment is recommended, additional work would be needed to design a trail that minimizes impacts to environmental resources, meets design standards to construct and maintain a sustainable trail, and provides a meaningful visitor experience for multi-use recreationalists to share and enjoy the trail.

The partner agencies are in agreement that the policy direction set by the multi-agency recommendation and corresponding approvals/political process is important to affirm that a regional trail is part of the future for this area, which is a factor to integrate into future management strategies for the area.

Visitor Use Management Plan Process

The shared commitment to the North Route facilitates continued collaboration among the partner agencies, helps align long-term planning, funding, and resources, and creates a platform to work with the community on addressing access, local traffic congestion, parking impacts, and trail user conflicts.

In 2019, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will initiate a Visitor Use Management Plan for Eldorado Canyon State Park. This effort is an opportunity for the three partner agencies, state park visitors, and the Eldorado Springs community to examine and address issues. The process will include robust public input to seek ideas for possible solutions, to weigh options, and to generate a final plan that will attend to existing capacity issues at the park.

An initial task will be to develop a public engagement plan that ensures the Eldorado Springs community, state park recreationalists, and adjacent land managers are represented. Involvement from and collaboration among these community stakeholders will be integral.

The planning process will allow land managers and stakeholders to gather and analyze all options and will include multiple opportunities for public input. Some possible strategies that are currently being used in other popular recreation destinations, and that could be considered in the planning process include:

  • Shuttle or bus services to limit vehicle traffic.
  • Infrastructure redesign and improvements.
  • Trail redesign and improvements.
  • Permit and reservation systems.
  • Limits on use by visitor type and days of the week.

The timeline for the Visitor Use Management Plan is:

  • Early 2019: CPW will secure funding for a consultant.
  • Early 2019: Internal scoping.
  • Mid-late 2019: RFP for consultant, design public process.
  • 2020: Conduct public process to gather ideas and strategies, provide alternatives, and generate a final plan.

Public Engagement

On Nov. 28, 2018 the project partners hosted a second open house to present the findings of the feasibility study and the preliminary recommendations of the partner agencies for a preferred trail alignment between Walker Ranch Open Space and Eldorado Canyon State Park. It was attended by over 120 community stakeholders.

The public was encouraged to complete an online questionnaire to submit feedback on the preliminary agency recommendation. The online questionnaire was publicized on the project webpage, by email blast and social media, and at the Open House. It closed on Dec. 9, 2018.

On Aug. 28, 2018, over 100 people attended the initial open house. This forum kicked-off an initial comment period on: A) the project timeline and process, B) the analysis topics to be used to evaluate the alternatives, and C) the routes to be included in the feasibility study. Approximately 475 comments were received when the comment period closed on Sept. 11, 2018. These initial public comments helped inform the feasibility study analysis, the public was encouraged to provide input on the proposed plan for evaluating the trail routes, and timeline for completing the feasibility study.

The public and community stakeholders may provide additional input during the upcoming public hearings.

Feasibility Study

The feasibility study evaluated two conceptual corridors to make a multi-use connection between Eldorado Canyon State Park and Walker Ranch. While there is an existing pedestrian/equestrian link, the trail is too steep and rocky to accommodate bicyclists.

The study focused on a North Route (consisting of N1, N2, and N3 or N4 sub-alignments as identified in the plan) and a South Route (comprised of S1, S2 or S3, and S4 sub-alignments).

The feasibility study identified over a dozen trail alignments for initial consideration. Through field visits and meetings with adjacent property owners, there were several routes dismissed. A No Action option and two alignment corridors, each with four sub-alignments were retained for further analysis. These are described below and are included on the map.

No Action Option

The No Action option would not complete a multi-use connection that accommodates biking activities. Used as a baseline, the No Action alternative would maintain existing conditions.

North Route Option

The North Route generally follows the existing Eldorado Canyon Trail (ECT) corridor, with several variations and reroutes, reaching the Walker Ranch Loop Trail near South Boulder Creek. The existing and conceptual alignments detailed below are on public lands owned and managed by CPW and the City of Boulder.

Alignment N1 would include a realignment of the existing ECT, where the trail currently climbs through steep terrain in a series of steep switchbacks and steps within Eldorado Canyon State Park. A new trail would utilize terrain undulations to climb at a shallower grade, with turns and features that are suitable for multi-use travel. Portions of the existing trail would remain for climbing access and/or a short loop hike from the Eldorado Canyon State Park visitor center.

Alignment N2 would follow the existing ECT, with several short reroutes and enhancements to improve sustainability and suitability for multi-use travel.

Alignment N3 would follow the existing ECT where it drops to the west through a series of tight, steep switchbacks. Multiple short reroutes and trail enhancements would improve trail sustainability and suitability for multi-use travel.

Alignment N4 would require realignment of the existing ECT that would largely replace the existing ECT, using variations in terrain over a larger area to achieve shallower grades and a more sustainable trail that is better suited for multi-use travel. While some short sections of the existing trail may be re-used, most of it would be reclaimed and abandoned.

North Route approximate length: 4.9 miles

North Route Virtual Flyover

South Route Option

The South Route requires the construction of a new trail that follows a high contour from the existing Rattlesnake Gulch Trail around South Draw, before extending to the west past Johnson Gulch and Crescent Meadows, reaching the Walker Ranch Loop at the Crescent Meadows Trailhead. The conceptual alignments detailed below are on public lands owned and managed by Boulder County, the City of Boulder, and CPW.

Alignment S1 would follow a high contour above South Draw, crossing the stream near the southern edge of the study area.

Alignment S2 would follow contours to the north before climbing through a series of switchbacks in open and rocky terrain to reach a high saddle. From the saddle, the alignment would follow an existing two-track road, that would require enhancements to improve sustainability and suitability for multi-use travel.

Alignment S3 is a variation of S2, but would follow contours further north of S2, climbing to a lower saddle where it would turn to the west and follow a historic mining road that would require enhancements to improve sustainability and suitability for multi-use travel. It would reach the same saddle as S2.

Alignment S4 would descend towards a crossing of Johnson Gulch before climbing back to Crescent Meadows. Within Crescent Meadows, this route follows an existing two-track road, with several variations for sustainability and suitability for multi-use travel to reach the Crescent Meadows Trailhead.

South Route approximate length: 7.7 miles

South Route Virtual Flyover

Self-Guided Tour

The self-guided tour is designed as two separate two-hour round trip hikes and offer trail users an opportunity to experience the terrain and to view portions for the North and South route conceptual alignments. The first is along the existing Eldorado Canyon Trail to become familiar with the north route alignment. The second, along the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail, is the access trail to the South route option and includes stops that offer a birds eye view of the south draw portion of the south route as well as the N1 North Route.

The below PDFs and KMZ files are georeferenced. They can be used in apps like Avenza Maps and ArcGIS Explorer that allow offline use and can use your device’s built-in GPS to track your location on the map.

Background

For many years, there has been a desire to create a multi-use link that could reasonably accommodate bicycles. While there is an existing pedestrian/equestrian link between Eldorado Canyon State Park and Walker Ranch, the trail is steep and rocky to accommodate bicyclists. It also shows signs of erosion that present challenges for sustainable trail maintenance practices. An objective of the feasibility study is to evaluate options to realign the existing trail or to construct a new trail. A requirement is that both options would accommodate multi-use recreation.

Support for a feasibility study to evaluate a multi-use trail that includes bicyclists is identified in the following plans:

The connection also is identified as one of “the Colorado 16” (16 in 2016) priority trails in the 2016-2026 Colorado State Trails Plan and Department of Natural Resources Colorado the Beautiful program.

Contact Us

Boulder County
Parks & Open Space

Marni Ratzel
303-678-6271

City of Boulder
Open Space and Mountain Parks

Kacey French
303-441-3440

Colorado
Parks and Wildlife

John Carson
303-494-3943