In 2018, the Eldorado Canyon to Walker Ranch Trail Feasibility Study was completed to investigate and analyze trail options for a multi-use connection. The study was a partnership of Boulder County Parks & Open Space (BCPOS), the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP), and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).
Eldorado Canyon to Walker Ranch Connection Feasibility Study
While a public hearing before the Boulder County Commissioners was initially anticipated for March, in response to public comments and recommendations from the advisory boards, the county commissioners will postpone scheduling a public hearing until after the planned visitor management plan for Eldorado Canyon State Park is developed by CPW. The three partner agencies continue to be aligned with gathering additional information that responds to the interests of all three land managers as well as the visiting public and adjacent communities.
Boulder County Parks & Open Space staff will present an update to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on the status of the a proposed interagency multi-use trail connection between Eldorado Canyon and Walker Ranch on Thursday, March 21, at 3:30 p.m. The staff update is open to the public, but since this is an information-only session for the BOCC with no decisions or actions requested, public testimony will not be taken.
Public Meetings & Hearings
Two public hearings were held to consider a partner agency recommendation, one in January by the Boulder County Parks & Open Space Advisory Committee (POSAC) and one in February by the City of Boulder Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT).
The feasibility study findings, partner agency recommendation, and direction provided by both POSAC and OSBT all support continued collaboration on additional planning and community engagement to address capacity related impacts on Eldorado Canyon State Park and the Eldorado Springs community. The city and county open space boards’ guidance also suggests that attention be focused on considering a north route for the preferred alignment, although no final determination on the construction of a trail or the specific alignment has been made. A north alignment would primarily traverse OSMP and Eldorado Canyon State Park managed lands, with only several hundred feet of proposed trail on BCPOS land.
On March 1, CPW recommended putting any decisions about a multi-use trail on hold until an overall Visitor Use Management Plan can be developed. CPW intends to further analyze the potential multi-use connection that would allow mountain biking along with other potential future uses of the park as part of this planning process and statement of work.
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 identified, funded, and executed, and relevant metrics are met prior to initiating construction of trail1.
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.
1 The third part of the recommendation reflects the recommendations of the Parks & Open Space Advisory Committee (POSAC). The recommendation brought to POSAC was “3) ensuring capacity mitigation efforts are in place before the trail is opened to biking.”
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.
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 comments are a valuable component of the decision making process. All feedback received is added to the public record and provided to staff, advisory boards, and the Board of County Commissioners who will consider the final partner agency recommendation.
The project went through two formal public comment periods and there are multiple documents that report comments received. Those documents are as follows:
- Compendium of Initial Public Comments – Reflects feedback received during the initial public comment period that was open from Aug. 28 – Sept. 11, 2018. The initial public comment period helped inform the feasibility study analysis.
- Summary and Responses to Initial Public Comments – Highlights key results and common themes expressed by feedback received during the initial public comment period.
- Online Questionnaire Summary of Responses – Summarizes the online questionnaire that was created to gather feedback from community stakeholders on the preliminary partner agency recommendation. The questionnaire was open during the second public comment period from Nov. 28, 2018 – Dec. 9, 2018.
- Summary of Online Questionnaire Responses – Highlights key results from the online questionnaire.
- Compendium of Comments Received by Written Correspondence – Includes additional feedback on the preliminary agency recommendation received during the second public comment period.
- Compendium of Comments Received Dec. 10, 2018 – March 12, 2019 – Includes comments made after the second public comment period including comments sent to the Parks & Open Space Advisory Board.
Additional Public Comments
Additional public comments may be submitted using the form below. Comments will be shared with the Board of County Commissioners and the partner agencies. All comments will become part of the public record and are immediately visible after submission.
Initial Comment Period (Aug. 28 – Sept. 11, 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.
- Aug. 28, 2018 Open House Posters
- Summary and Responses to Initial Public Comments
- Compendium of Initial Public Comments
Second Comment Period (Nov. 28 – Dec. 9, 2018)
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, through social media and email lists, and at the open house. It closed on Dec. 9, 2018.
- Nov. 28, 2018 Open House Presentation
- Nov. 28, 2018 Open House Posters
- Summary of Online Questionnaire Responses
- Online Questionnaire Summary of Responses
- Compendium of Comments Received by Written Correspondence
Parks & Open Space Advisory Board Meeting (Jan. 24, 2019)
On Jan. 24, 2019, the Boulder County Parks & Open Space Advisory Committee held a public hearing and approved the following motion:
1) Approve the North Route (using N1, N2, N4) as the preferred alignment for construction of a multi-use trail connection between Eldorado Canyon State Park and Walker Ranch,
2) continuing to work with OSMP and CPW in collaboration with stakeholders to develop and implement strategies that mitigate capacity related issues affecting the greater Eldorado Springs community, and
3) ensuring capacity mitigation efforts are identified, funded, and executed, and relevant metrics are met prior to initiating construction of trail.
City of Boulder Open Space Board of Trustees (Feb. 13, 2019)
On Feb. 13, 2019, the City of Boulder Open Space Board of Trustees held a public hearing and accepted public comments.
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).
- Eldorado Canyon to Walker Ranch Trail Feasibility Study
- Summary of Findings (pages 14-24 of the study)
- Trail Feasibility Map
- North Route Virtual Flyover
- South Route Virtual Flyover
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
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.
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:
- Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan
- Walker Ranch Management Plan
- City of Boulder Visitor Master Plan
- Eldorado Mountain/Doudy Draw Trail Study Area (TSA) Plan
- West Trail Study Area (TSA) Plan
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.