Consultants will move ahead with expanded trails master plan

RBC I Great Outdoors Consultants (GOC), the company hired in November to create a trails master plan for motorized — and non-motorized use in Rio Blanco County, presented several trail concepts at the second of three public workshops during March in Rangely and Meeker.
GOC Executive Director Drew Stoll presented four trail master plan concepts and drafts of a vision statement, goals and principles to the attendees, who were asked to offer opinions and commentary on the tentative layouts and purposes of the trail system.
The feedback will be used to further hone a trails plan GOC will unveil in May after the consultants host a final public workshop next month.
Of the four plans, participants favored a trail system that looped around the county rather than one main trail bisecting it. Attendees also liked loop options with special recreation areas built along the main route and scenic routes designed to curve along ridge lines.
Some thought a third option, named the “Northwest Colorado Regional Trail System” in the initial concept draft, could bring what Colorado State University (CSU) economist John Loomis dubbed “new money” into the county as non-residents would travel to Rio Blanco County trails via interconnected systems in neighboring counties.
Stoll said that when he met with Garfield County officials recently about the potential for connecting a Rio Blanco trails system to a broader regional network, he emphasized the need for the other counties to collaborate should plans move that direction.
“I told them frankly, ‘You guys have an advantage over Rio Blanco County,’” Stoll said. “You’re on the I-70 corridor; you have more hotels and more services. If you want to be part of a regional trail system, you have to figure out how to help Rio Blanco County as much as you have to think about how to help yourselves. Otherwise, it’s not going to be a partnership and it’s not going to be successful.”
Assuming the scope of the trails master plan remains focused on Rio Blanco County, Loomis discussed the potential growth to the county from Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) recreation alone, based on three future-use scenarios.
Loomis estimated that current spending on OHV “trips” by county and non-county residents is approximately $1.8 million, based on between 10,140 and 13,960 group trips annually (defined as any outing or excursion away from a residence). That figure, he said, breaks down to an estimated 31 full and part-time jobs, $1.2 million in labor income, almost $500,000 in property income and close to $87,000 in local sales tax.
To estimate potential income generated after implementing a master trails system, Loomis’ first scenario matched Rio Blanco County’s potential OHV trail use to a comparable number of acres currently used for OHVs in Moffat County.
The second scenario considered OHV use per mile of trail similar to south-central Utah’s Paiute Trail System, while the third scenario calculated future use by adding 10 special events similar to the White River OHV Rendezvous annually.
The gain in resident and non-resident trips jumped from as few as 1,000, using the special-event calculation, to as many as almost 14,000, using the Paiute Trail scenario, by year five of the trail’s implementation.
In terms of the “new” or non-residential money flowing into the county, non-resident use is estimated at between 36 and 42 percent of all visits. That could mean as little as $66,800 or as much as $921,200 in estimated gross income by the trail’s fifth year in operation.
Loomis also discussed the potential return on investment once one-time and recurring costs factor in, adding that the county could capture more income and cover some costs via merchandizing, special-event fees or increased bed taxes.
A main purpose of the scenarios, Loomis said, is to help keep expectations in line with reality.
“(The scenarios are) saying, ‘Here’s the potential so that you’ve got some order of magnitude. “You know it’s not going to be larger than (the Paiute or Moffat County outcomes)…you want to keep expectations realistic given the location, where you are in relation to population centers and the Interstate.”
Stoll added that bringing the trails master plan to fruition would happen in phases, at the same time emphasizing the need to make progress and begin marketing efforts relatively quickly following the plan’s completion, all while considering ways to work with and around issues of industry, seasons of use, private land and topography.
“While we’re going to break implementation into phases, we want some success in the first phase,” Stoll said. “It doesn’t do us any good if it takes us 20 years to open up a trail system. We need elements that we can have some success with sooner than later.”
GOC consultant Jim Keeler reiterated the need to stay focused on elements that have worked for other successful trail systems. Among these are qualities that make the location a “destination” for visitors using trails in varying ways, establishing a consistent funding mechanism, varying the purpose, width and difficulty of trails, and marketing a common vision in unified consistent ways while maintaining diverse partnerships.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Social and Physical Sciences Supervisor Chad Schneckenburger confirmed that the BLM will continue to let the trails master plan shape the focus areas for its evolving travel management plan.
“We’re estimating that there’s roughly 8,000 miles of route out there; that’s kind of a guess,” he said. “We can’t have all that open, but … we want to make good choices about what should stay open, what should be closed and why. What are the experiences we want to provide to users? And that’s why this process has been really, really helpful.”
To view the Power Point presentation shown at GOC’s second public workshop, a summary of trail concepts and participant feedback, or to provide comments of your own, go to