Proposed trail map

A map of conceptual trails from Telluride Mountain Club’s Trail Sustainability Plan. (Image courtesy of Telluride Mountain Club)

The Telluride Mountain Club (TMtC) recently released a new Trail Sustainability Plan. The initiative is designed to both improve existing non-motorized trails within the region and to design new trails that would augment the current system.

In total, the Telluride region contains about 137,000 acres of land and more than 200 miles of existing trails. The new plan from TMtC includes increased trail accessibility for hiking, trail running, biking and equestrian use, as well as about 51 miles of new single-track that would connect existing trails.

For now, the proposed trails are purely conceptual, according to TMtC director Heidi Lauterbach. Before anything will be built, TMtC will negotiate with regional government officials, private landowners, land managers and other stakeholders to ensure that the trails are community-approved and adhere to the regulations from land managing agencies.

Around Telluride, many of the most popular trails were not designed for recreational use originally. The TMtC Trail Sustainability Plan would help connect many existing trails into more cohesive loops.

“A lot of what we currently have is old mining roads and trails. It was never conceptually laid out with recreation in mind to begin with,” Lauterbach explained.

Over 500 community members helped develop the Trail Sustainability Plan. TMtC partnered with the Town of Mountain Village, San Miguel County, San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) and the Telluride Foundation.

By releasing the Trail Sustainability Plan, TMtC hopes to introduce a “guiding document” for trail use in the upcoming ten years. The publication offers estimates for the costs to improve and further develop the existing trail system as well as fundraising options.

The Trail Sustainability Plan is designed to anticipate growth in the Telluride region as outdoor recreation tourism continues to increase. The Town of Telluride is seeing more visitors each summer, according to the Telluride Tourism Board. Hikers and trail runners abound, and mountain biking is steadily gaining popularity in Telluride and Mountain Village. Locals and visitors alike are ready for new terrain.

“The word on Telluride is out,” Lauterbach said. “The trail system as it is cannot accommodate all the people in a sustainable way.”

The publication of the Trail Sustainability Plan is just one step towards improving trails in the Telluride region. Implementing the plan is not yet feasible. TMtC simply does not have enough funding to build new trails and improve the old.

“The reality of this plan is that is can’t be implemented with our current funding situation,” Lauterbach said.

In the Telluride region, where the terrain is steep and variable, building a new trail can cost upwards of $30,000 per mile.

“The reality is that Telluride’s geography can pretty challenging,” Lauterbach explained.

Human-built trails, though often preferred, cost more money, Lauterbach explained.

Unlike many popular outdoor destinations in Colorado, Telluride does not currently have a funding system in place to support trail development and maintenance. According to Lauterbach, most tourism-based mountain towns like Telluride have perpetual funding for trail systems. Telluride does not. Strategies for trail funding vary by town, but include taxes, fees and endowments, she added.

The current administration’s budget cuts also cut into local trail funding. When the Forest Service’s budget gets reduced on both the national and local levels, regional trail systems suffer, Lauderbach explained.

To combat funding deficits, TMtC created the Telluride Outdoor Commitment Fund (TOCF). According to the website, the initiative “is a community-wide effort” that will go towards supporting the costs of regional trails, climbing routes and the Via Ferrata, as well as the indoor climbing gym and educational efforts for avalanche and backcountry safety.

TOCF funds can also be used for bigger grant applications, suchs as GOCO and the National Forest Foundation. Lauterbach encourages everyone in the community to participate, particularly as most residents and visitors enjoy the region’s trail system.

“I think everyone is excited about trails in Telluride. The majority, if not all, are in favor of at least one of these trail projects,” Lauterbach said.

Currently, 83 percent of Colorado residents use trails for outdoor recreation, according to the CPW 2016-26 Statewide Trails Strategic Plan. Within the Telluride area itself, TMtC conducted its own surveys to determine the potential need for new trails. In an initial online survey in the fall of 2015, TMC collected 370 responses. The majority of people supported implementing a tax initiative to fund trail development in the region. Additionally, most respondents said they would be willing to contribute time or money to improve Telluride’s trail system.

Participants highlighted several essential measures to better Telluride’s trails. Some of the most popular suggestions were building new connector trails, adding more signage, stabilizing existing trails, and better clearing debris and trash from use areas.

A second survey in 2017 produced similar, though updated, results. For the 160 participants in the survey, the most important aspects to improve were “better connectors, directional trails, improved trail maintenance, better signage and maps, easier and safer trails, collaboration between partners, improved access and facilities, and improved sustainability of trails.”

The Trail Sustainability Plan is intended to adapt over time. Lauterbach encourages community feedback. Those interested can submit an online survey response to TMtC. Survey feedback also helps grant applications.

“We really encourage people to give their feedback,” Lauterbach said. “This is the time to tell us.”