As the deadline for commenting on the Bureau of Land Management's Draft Resource Management Plan approaches, a growing number of outdoor recreation enthusiasts are focused on support for special recreational status for Jumbo Mountain and other areas of prime recreational interest in the North Fork area.
First called Elephant's Back, Jumbo was re-named after the famous circus elephant after the release of the 1952 movie, "The Greatest Show on Earth." Located just east of Paonia, the scenic area lies within Bureau of Land Management lands. It's a popular place to run and hike and offers a network of advanced-level single track mountain bike trails with a vertical climb of about 1,200 feet and stunning views of the North Fork area and beyond.
Jumbo is "a huge resource that hasn't been tapped into," said Luke Tembrock, a Delta County native and 1997 Hotchkiss High School graduate.
Tembrock, who lives in Fort Collins, grew up mountain biking in Western Colorado and was always searching for a trail or mining or logging road to ride. He is working with other groups on a proposal for a multi-use trail system connecting communities like Gunnison, Crested Butte, Carbondale, Paonia, Hotchkiss, Crawford and Palisade and increasing the area's recreational opportunities. The proposal could become reality in three to five years. That buys time to perfect plans and raise money for development and maintenance, said Tembrock.
Tembrock is among a growing number of trail users supporting Special Recreation Management Area status for Jumbo. More and more, people are seeing the economic benefits of recreation, said Tembrock, who also sits on the board of the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (COPMOBA). The more than 25-year-old association has partnered to develop trails in the Colorado Plateau and Western Colorado areas since 1989. It currently has five chapters representing areas from Palisade to Loma and Delta and Montrose counties.
Giving Jumbo SRMA designation "is a win-win," said proponent Sven Edstrom, who grew up riding in the Hartman Rocks area on BLM land near Gunnison in the "exploratory time of mountain biking." Hartman Rocks has since been re-designed as a multi-use area and is bringing visitors to the area. Edstrom moved to the North Fork area in 2000 and sees development of outdoor recreation opportunities as a way to provide a future for him and his young family.
Edstrom also chairs the Delta Area Mountain Bikers chapter of COPMOBA. The development of multi-use trails would allow for multiple recreational uses, including ATVs and motorcycles, horses, hikers and bikers, said Edstrom. "We want to create trails for the whole community."
Under the BLM draft RMP, much of the area under consideration for recreational use, including Jumbo, is also subject to energy development. The time to comment is now, say proponents, since the comment period on the BLM's 2,000-page draft Regional Management Plan ends Nov. 1. When approved, the RMP will guide the way area federal lands are managed in the coming 20-30 years.
Local efforts to gain SRMA designation have been gaining for several years. At the July 26 Paonia town board meeting, about a half dozen local mountain bikers, hikers and business owners echoed support for SRMA designation, and said they prefer a focus on recreational tourism over oil and gas as a more sustainable way of addressing the economy.
The designation "would be an incredible boon to the burgeoning local recreation industry," said Alex Johnson, executive director of the Paonia-based Western Slope Conservation Center. It would also protect Jumbo from oil and gas development and protect scenic views.
SRMA status is included in the North Fork Alternative Plan. Submitted to the BLM in 2013 by community stakeholders representing agriculture, tourism, real estate, business and conservation organizations, the NFAP is a resource-based set of recommendations specific to the North Fork and Smith Fork drainages and is included in Alternative B.1 of the draft RMP. Support for B.1 is also support for SRMA designation for Jumbo.
Amy DeLuca also addressed trustees. DeLuca owns the Cirque Cyclery in downtown Paonia, a unique business model consisting of three independent businesses dedicated to healthy lifestyle choices -- a juice bar/cafe, full-service bicycle repair shop, and retail space offering of local and regional products. They also rent bikes and offer bike farm and winery tours. And they are always giving directions to Jumbo, said DeLuca.
The Cirque also provides five full-time and three part-time jobs, said DeLuca. In the six months since opening, sales of the line of electric bikes they carry has exceeded expectations. The top five dealers in the country are Seattle, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Paonia.
"That's a pretty sweet deal for a place like us," said DeLuca. She asked trustees to take the issue very seriously. "Others' livelihoods depend on it. If something were to threaten Jumbo, that would kill our business."
Former town trustee Amber Kleinman is a mountain biker and COPMOBA member and calls Jumbo "a gem... I think it's time to speak up and to say that this is a recreational place," said Kleinman, "and it needs to stay recreational into the future."
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, a group of 14 outdoor industry leaders that provide a voice in outdoor recreation, the industry is considered an economic powerhouse in the U.S., generating $646 billion annually in consumer spending and creating 6.1 million direct jobs. In Colorado alone, outdoor recreation creates $13.2 billion annually in consumer spending, provides 124,600 jobs and $4.2 billion in wages and salaries, and generates $994 million in state and local tax revenue.
Gov. John Hickenlooper recognizes the recreation industry's impact on the economy. In 2015 he created the position of Director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office within the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, and this year he announced the "16 in 2016" trails initiative to identify trail systems with gaps and missing segments for future development.
There is state backing, and recreational funding is available through Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) money. With all of the economic needs in the area due to coal mines shutting down, this is a good time to apply for funding, said Tembrock.
He points to the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, which along with the Dominguez-Escalante NCA is excluded from the draft. Within the NCA is the Sidewinder Trail, 20 miles of expert-level single-track, and the 14-mile Smith Mountain Jeep Loop. The BLM is preparing to receive a proposal for development of a trail system within the NCA, said Tembrock. Other North Fork areas prime for multi-use trail development include Elephant Hill and Lone Cabin.
Speaking on behalf of the Paonia Singletrack Society, Tracy McCurdy told trustees she regularly rides the Jumbo trails and introduces friends and visitors to the area. She sees "all sorts of trail use," from people out walking their dogs to parents teaching kids to ride single track. Two eagle nests can be seen in Jumbo's rock face, and from the summit, also known as "the hammock," the view extends to the town and the entire North Fork Valley. After riding, she said, trail users visit the brewery or wineries, go out to eat and stay in hotels. "As local trail users we are seeking the highest level of protection for our lands," said McCurdy. If trails can be developed, "It could attract bikers and trail users and be an economic driver in the community."