As many of you know, we’ve been working to get Jefferson County (Jeffco) Open Space (OS) to open up their trails at night. Briefly, any broad night usage is not going to happen, at least not in the short term. However, there is a proposal allow a very limited amount of night usage, on a very limited number of trails.
Jeffco OS has been around for 4 decades. Night usage has never been part of their system. Lakewood’s Green Mountain (open until 10pm) and Bear Creek Lake Park (until 10pm summer, 8pm spring and fall, 6pm winter), and Chatfield State Park are really the only nearby trails open at night. Really that means Green Mtn is the only mountain trail open. On many fall (mainly), as well as spring and temperate winter evenings, you’ll see dozens of lights, mostly from mountain bikers, bopping along the trails. Boulder Mountain Parks (e.g., the Mesa trail system) is open at night, but doesn’t allow bikes.
Last summer, I began working with Kyle Henley, a mountain biker on getting OS to consider night usage. Kyle and I are both members of the OSs Trail Use Task Force (TUTF). TUTF is a group of runners/hikers, bikers, and equestrians who help advise OS on issues that concern our different communities, and help resolve conflicts between the groups. TUTF is an advisory and communications group; it has no decision making authority.
We put together a survey, with input from other TUTF members, and gathered input from our communities. Many of you took that survey. We presented the results and our case both privately to OS staff, and publicly at the TUTF meeting last October. Night usage has never been considered by Jeffco OS, or even really on their radar until, they became aware of our survey, and we made our presentation. This includes both the OS staff, and the Open Space Advisory Committee (OSAC). OSAC does have decision making authority, and approves all major changes in policy, land purchases/swaps, etc.
OS is not going to consider any sweeping changes to their no night usage policy now for two main reasons.
1. Staffing – By this I mean staff time to investigate and develop a manageable policy, rather than ranger staff. OS is not just going to open up their trails at night without some due diligence. That means spending staff resources to investigate other places that allow night usage, work through management, liability, wildlife and safety issues, etc. The new OS director thinks the staff has been spread too thin - taking on too many projects – and wants to clean up their ~160 item project list, and focus on a few major projects (finishing the new trail system at N Table is their major focus), before taking on a lot more.
2. Perception of the interference with wildlife from night usage. OS staff are certainly aware that any encroachment in wildlife areas – simply building trails, housing, roads, etc. – affects wildlife behavior. Night usage doesn’t necessarily cause any more disruption of their activity than daytime usage. In fact, at the TUTF meeting, OS staff presented some very interesting data on how different animals alter their activity around the clock in response to human activity. However, regardless of the reality of the impact, the perception that night usage is bad for wildlife and should be avoided strongly exists both amongst the public (there are some conservation organizations that have strong influence with OS) and OSAC. Thus any change in the policy will not be politically easy or quick.
Regardless of what you may think – and I do think that night usage doesn’t have to be that hard to implement – it’s not going to happen anytime soon
However, OS has come up with a proposal to allow for limited night usage at a handful of parks. This is not an ideal, or certainly a long term solution, however, I see this as way into night usage, and a way to show OS staff, OSAC, and the public, that night usage can work.
Their proposal is a good start, but needs some work. I want your comments and ideas to feed back by them. I need to give them the feedback by the end of March, so please let me know by March 26. You can leave your comments here, or e-mail me.
Proposal, with my comments in italics.
Usage only through special permits. The criteria for such permits is still being determined. However, they are looking at group sizes between 10-25 people. The permit holder will manage the group, with all night users signing in and out. Only one user group per month. User groups are defined as runner/hiker (we’re considered the same on TUTF), biker and equestrian. The groups will rotate (e.g., bikers in April, runners/hikers in May, equestrians in June) so that each user group has similar opportunities. No commercial activities; i.e., no races. Groups would have to pay ranger costs, tbd.
I think this is workable, with some adjustments. For runners, we could get a permit through DTR. I’d like to see the size expanded to 50. I can see us easily getting > 25, and we can show that 50 is manageable. I don’t see them going beyond that. I would like to see them allow more than one group/event per month, especially in the popular months of Sept-Nov.
Only in 3 parks: Matthews Winters, Mt. Falcon lower lot, White Ranch upper lot. These were chosen based on
- proximity to OS office/staff.
- Trails they think are best able to handle night usage.
- Minimal adjacent neighborhood concerns.
I think MW would work if they also open up the Hogback and Zorro trails to link to Green. I’m not sure how they would handle the loop through Red Rocks. RR is a Denver Mountain Park, which doesn’t allow night usage.
Falcon is an interesting choice because of the houses around the lower lot. It would be fun running the upper trails at night, with views of the city. However, I don’t really look forward to coming down Falcon at night.
I don’t like White Ranch from the upper lot because it’s too far a drive on weeknights. I’m guessing that was chosen because there’s a resident ranger there, and they already allow overnight camping.
I think Elk Meadow, lower lot, would be a great location. It’s not overly steep or technical, so would be very usable at night by runners and bikers. There is a resident ranger, and it isn’t far from town. There shouldn’t be any neighborhood concerns from the lower lot. It’s right off hwy 74, so easy to patrol.
Chimney Gulch/Lookout is also a good location. It’s easy to access. The road already has traffic at night.
South & North Table mountains would be good at night, but I’m not sure they would allow them now. They are still building the trails at N Table, so I don’t know if they would allow any group usage there. I already was told that I couldn’t put on a race at N Table. They are just starting to work on the trails at South Table. There are too many social trails and trails through private land that they still want to close off before they widely promote wide scale usage. There’s also neighborhood concerns.
Lair of the Bear is out because most of the trail we would want to use, starting ~1/3mi up from the creek, is in Denver Mountain Parks, and they don’t allow night usage. Places like Deer Creek and lower White Ranch have neighborhood concerns. Centennial Cone is too far.
Hours: until 9pm Nov-March, 11pm April-Oct. This is fine.
Permit Process: Due 1st of the month, one month in advance. I think many groups need more than 30 days to adequately plan and promote an event.
Regardless of what happens, I think and hope DTR will be involved in this. I think the ultra runners (and others) would love to have a summer run (or two), and the main group would flock to a fall run.
Let me know your comments.