Hazy skies in Boulder County on Dec. 9, 2021. Credit: John Herrick

Boulder County commissioners last week approved a $1.6 million investment in county open space primarily for building and upgrading trails.  

The routine annual investment will also pay for thinning forests, rock climbing approaches, rehabilitating barns built in the late 1800s, upgrading agricultural water supplies and restoring wildlife habitat. 

The county uses money it collects from sales taxes and leverages additional funds from private partnerships and grants, totaling more than $4 million for 2022. 

The majority of the 2022 capital improvement and stewardship budget will go toward upgrading three trails and building a new one on the eastern side of the county. 

  • Rock Creek Trail. The county plans to build a 2.6 mile, mixed-use gravel path along the 104th Street corridor in Louisville and Lafayette. The south side of the trail would begin at Stearns Lake and run north to the Coal Creek Trail. 
  • Coalton Trail. Upgrades to the Coalton Trail include re-routing a steep section of the mixed-use trail due to erosion issues and failure to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. This trail follows a section of the popular Dirty Bismark loop. 
  • Tolland Ranch Trail. This project would connect West Magnolia, a popular mountain biking trail network near Nederland, to the Continental Divide. This segment is part of the envisioned Indian Peaks Traverse from Boulder to Winter Park. In April, however, Colorado Parks and Wildlife decided not to reconsider allowing mountain bikes through Eldorado Canyon State Park to Walker Ranch, effectively blocking a key segment for the conceptual mountain bike route. 
  • Lobo Trail. The county plans to resurface sections of the trail connecting Boulder to Longmont in areas where water pools due to poor drainage. 

Separately, in response to increased visitation, the county will spend $50,000 to upgrade parking at Heil Valley Ranch, a trail network in Lyons. This includes building another parking lot for up to 20 cars. 

In response to a presentation last week from Parks and Open Space, Matt Jones, a commissioner from Louisville, raised concerns about adding more parking. 

“I don’t think our default should be to expand trailhead capacity,” Jones said. “We’re just gonna get more use. It’s kinda like building extra lanes on a road.” 

Jones also said he would like to see more projects that connect habitat for wildlife on open space. 

The smallest investment next year is for ecosystem projects. This category includes a $8,000 restoration project at Bush Pond to clear cattails and improve the habitat for the Northern Leopard Frog, which the county has classified a “species of concern.” Other ecosystem projects include killing invasive cheatgrass with herbicide and a fish passage project. 

Tina Nielsen, a special project manager at Boulder County Parks and Open Space, said money shifts between priorities every year. Nielsen said spending this year was heavy on trail infrastructure due to available grant money and partnership opportunities. 

Nielsen said the county prioritizes projects based on several criteria, including cultural relevance and inclusion, maintenance backlogs and safety. 

Other projects included upgrading trail signage to include Spanish translations and hiring a consultant to update the county’s plans for its museums to “better reflect a more inclusive human history of Boulder County.”

At the end of the Parks and Open Space Presentation, Marta Loachamin, a commissioner from Longmont, said she didn’t hear much about inclusion. 

Some ways to increase inclusion, Loachamin told the Boulder Reporting Lab, could include adding more ADA parking and improving signs for people who are visually impaired. She said the county could also fund agricultural mentorship programs, for example.

John Herrick

John Herrick reports on housing, climate, health and local government for Boulder Reporting Lab. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for VTDigger.org. He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness.