A group of local trails enthusiasts is working to ensure that a popular recreation area in the North Fork Valley remains accessible to the public for hiking and biking and other uses.
Standing just east of downtown Paonia, the Jumbo Mountain area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management Uncompahgre Field Office in Montrose. In recent years the area has become a popular mountain biking destination, offering more than 20 miles of intermediate to advanced trails weaving throughout the area and a challenging ascent of more than 1,300 feet in elevation. The views, from the West Elk Mountains to the Uncompahgre Plateau and Grand Mesa, are stunning.
A group calling itself the North Fork Trail Advocacy Group (NFTAG) is advocating for Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA) designation for the Jumbo area under the BLM UFO's draft Resource Management Plan. A final decision on the plan is expected in fall of 2018.
A sub-chapter of the Delta Area Mountain Bikers (DAMB), NFTAG already has more than 90 members who not only enjoy the area, but see it as an economic benefit to the local and regional economy. Both operate under the umbrella of the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (COPMOBA), a nonprofit organization of volunteer mountain bikers advocating for the building and maintenance of single track mountain bike trails on the Colorado Plateau.
"The group is looking into the future 50 years," said NFTAG member Smith Boone.
Their timing is good. The Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association's recently released Outdoor Recreation Economy Report concludes that the industry generates $887 billion in annual consumer spending nationwide. Outdoor recreation also supports 7.6 million jobs and $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue, according to the report. The association calls recreation "a powerful economic engine" and one of the country's largest economic sectors, "providing livelihoods for millions of American workers."
The industry is also one of the fastest growing sectors in the U.S. economy. Communities where industry and mining are a thing of the past are looking to recreation to revive their economies. Some, like Crosby, Minn., a former iron mining community, have been reborn after developing a system of single track mountain biking trails. It's estimated that cycling brings $2 million annually to the economy.
NFTAG members are reaching out to the public and to other recreational user groups for support in gaining SRMA designation. Their members represent mountain bikers, hikers, and equestrian users, as well as local businesses, all wanting to ensure that the area remains accessible to as many users as possible.
NFTAG wants to be very clear that they support multi-use trail systems. "We're not just about making trails better for bikes to zoom along on," said NFTAG member Tracy McCurdy.
Until this spring Jumbo's future was uncertain because there was no official public access to the trails. Without it, there was little support from the BLM, said DAMB and NFTAG member Sven Edstrom. Last February the Town of Paonia signed an agreement with the developers of the adjacent Hawk's Haven Subdivision that included a permanent recreational easement to the Jumbo area.
With a decision on the draft RMP expected next year, the group isn't wasting any time in moving forward. A memorandum understanding between COPMOBA's individual chapters and the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office is currently under review. This agreement would further support the application for planning and construction grants through the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Non-Motorized Trails and other grant programs, which both DAMB and NFTAG are seeking, said Edstrom.
For now, NFTAG is focusing on trail maintenance. A final draft of a trail map is also under review, with the ultimate goal of providing an on-line map complete with trail names and icons; signage and a trail registry are also in the works, and the Town of Paonia recently committed to installing signage at the trailhead.
This October NFTAG, The Cirque Cyclery and others will host the Gears and Beers Festival. Alongside DAMB they are also working with The Nature Connection and the North Fork Pool, Parks and Recreation District to build a pump track adjacent to the public pool Hotchkiss High School, with a goal of creating a network of trails on recreation district BLM lands located adjacent to the school. This development is in coordination with the Delta County-wide GOCO Inspire Grant application submitted in June.
NFTAG meetings are held the last Wednesday of each month and are open to the public. To learn more or get involved, contact the North Fork Trail Advocacy Group through its Facebook page.