The Trails We Love – Mill Creek

Mill Creek, North Trail Connector and Vail Uphill Trail – One Win and Two Setbacks

In 2022, the VVMTA proposed a single-track trail connection from the Town of Vail to the North Trail. As part of this trail proposal, we had an opportunity to support Vail Resorts and our partners on the Mill Creek and Vail Uphill Trail proposals. Mill Creek was approved due to our advocacy and the community’s desire to maintain access. The other two projects were denied due to community concerns regarding the impacts on wildlife.

In this issue of The Trails we Love, we’ll discuss the impact of our advocacy, why we care so much about wildlife and how we plan to move forward.

First, let’s talk about the success of Mill Creek. Have you had a chance to get out and enjoy this 6.5 miles of new trail? It could be one of the most beautiful single-track trails in our valley with spectacular views from Benchmark. The trail is in great shape thanks to some heavy lifting from our Wednesday Night Trail Crew and the Forest Service this summer. With this snow coming in, we hope you’ve had a chance to enjoy it as it might be covered in a foot of snow by Thursday!

The value Mill Creek adds to our community is self-evident but the advocacy behind the trail is the true champion of this project. Having a dedicated, full-time advocate at the table enabled us to complete this project with our partners. We provided our expertise, resources, and experience to support local land managers in developing this new plan for the singletrack trail. Thanks to support from the Forest Service and the National Forest Foundation; our Trail Conservation Crew, Forest Service crews, hundreds of volunteer hours, McGill Trail Fabrication Ltd, and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps for helping us get this incredible trail built!

Many in our community were disappointed at the closure of the road. We recognize that the road was beloved by runners, hikers and bikers in ways that the single-track can’t replace.  But the road decommissioning was required by the Golden Peak ski area expansion decision to protect the Mill Creek watershed and native cutthroat trout. We hope in time that everyone can appreciate and enjoy the new trail and our continued access.

The fate of the North Trail Connection and Vail Uphill Trail was different and both were denied. The North Trail Connection was planned to run next to and within 10 yards of the Red Sandstone Road creating a desired singletrack trail connection between theNorth Trail. The goal of the trail aligned with the Town of Vail Open Lands Plan’s vision to improve trail connections, safety and experience for all trail users. Despite Red Sandstone Rd seeing upwards of 60,000 vehicles every summer, it was denied. We supported Vail Mountain on their Uphill Trail proposal with the goal to increase safety for both mountain bikers climbing mountain roads and its staff driving vehicles for necessary mountain operations.  

A number of people in our community successfully advocated that land managers should have a comprehensive view of the impact of these projects on wildlife. In other words, would these trail connections lead to “death by a thousand cuts?” And this is why we care so much about wildlife. We partner with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to understand the best way to recreate while minimizing our impact. This philosophy is the foundation of our Wildlife Trail Ambassador Program and Respect the Wild Campaign.

We would not have proposed to build these trails five years ago because of the amount of seasonal wildlife closure violations. It’s not the right thing to do and would directly conflict with our values, mission, and vision.  However, largely due to the successes of the Wildlife Trail Ambassador program, our amazing volunteers, and continued community education we see violations significantly decreasing in the area and throughout the valley. We felt that it was responsible and we were confident in proposing these trails knowing that a large majority of trail users understand and respect seasonal wildlife closures.

Moving forward we will continue to be the voice for sustainable recreation.  With support from the CPW, we are currently working on a comprehensive Eagle County wide planning effort to balance wildlife health and recreation opportunities. This planning effort includes multiple stakeholders who are reviewing data and science to put together a plan that can guide our future growth to ensure both a high-quality trail experience and protection of our natural resources.

We are looking forward to a great winter to continue this work and help ensure there is a trail for everyone. Thank you to all of our supporters, members and volunteers. We couldn’t do this work without your support!

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