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A discussion between representatives of Pinon Estates Subdivision and Chaffee County Commissioners on May 27 focused on the recreational impacts to and maintenance of Chaffee CR 110. Although a designated county road, the road crosses Bureau of Land Management property to access 22 residential homes to the west of BLM land. It passes two BLM trailheads and the section of road from the two trail heads down to the blacktop close to town has become an issue.

Drive CR 110 on Methodist Mountain above Salida on nearly any given day, especially during the summer season, and two realities quickly emerge. Most obvious is the rough, washboard surface of the dirt road after you leave the blacktop at the bottom of the hills. Second, you’ll likely to encounter cyclists on the hairpin curves of the narrow road (no matter whether driving up or down ), as well as commercial vehicles dropping off dozens of cyclists and bikes.

The problem, say Pinon Estates residents, is the use of the road their homeowner’s association (King Gulch HOA) pays to maintain. It was originally built as an access road to their property, based on an agreement between the developer and the BLM, which assigned the right-of-way to the county. But it has become a major access point for recreational on an expanding trail system, including the Spartan Trail, Double Rainbow Trail and Little Rainbow Trail. The BLM estimates that while 15 years ago perhaps 3,000 recreationists used the road, by 2018 that number had grown to around 24,000 per year, using the trails, driving on the road, parking in the upper and lower parking lots, and roughing up the road.

“I don’t think there’s another situation where an HOA is maintaining a county recreational resource,” said resident Ken Matthews who was representing the Pinon Estates HOA. He added, “There is no other road being maintained outside a subdivision that the primary purpose of that portion of the road is for access to recreational activities.”

Residents of the area turned out to voice their concerns at the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) public hearing on Tuesday. According to the residents, the situation has both financial and safety implications. They pointed out that the cost to the HOA to try to keep the road bladed and treated with mag chloride to keep down dust has tripled in the past five years.

Others voiced concerns about cyclists not obeying the trail crossing stop signs and flying out in front of oncoming cars. They detailed concerns that the rutted road meant that both auto traffic and cyclists are darting back and forth across the road trying to stay in smooth sections.

“It’s a matter of time before one of them just goes off the edges of one of the hairpin curves,” said Leslie Matthews.

“Have you discussed this with the BLM?” asked Commissioner Greg Felt. “The road is on their land. The trails are on their land, they worked to create this trail system. What is their take?”

Ken Matthews said that the BLM had responded that Salida Mountain Trails gets grants which could be used to help pay for road maintenance, but they use it to extend the trails, not on maintenance. He cited a 2017 application by Salida Mountain Trails for a $239,000 grant received to build the SpartanWest and East Trail and develop Upper Soul Train.  “When I look at the grant applications, it says that you commissioners have been supporting Salida Mountain Trails for 10 years at about $6,000 per year – yet we can’t get that road graded for summer?”

Residents asked that the county, which owns the road right-of-way, look at the situation and help them find an equitable solution. At the least, they said, could the county consider coordinating with the blading and treatment of the road, noting it would be more cost efficient and likely use better materials than the private contractors normally hired by the HOA.

“That section of road is now really a public road, but 22 homeowners are maintaining it,” said Matthews. “The grading and chloriding of it – it gets rough – could you grade to that trailhead and chloride it? This road … is now a public road. It’s getting a lot of use …We ask you to take over the road maintenance up to the Little Rainbow Trailhead – we don’t have a house in the [HOA] group until 3/10 mile past that trailhead.”

The county’s agreement with the developer of the subdivision established a perpetual easement, according to County Attorney Jennie Davis, which she said was unusual. During a discussion of possible solutions, she suggested that perhaps establishing a fee structure at the parking areas might help raise funds. The residents responded saying the BLM had placed boxes in the parking areas a few years ago, but they had disappeared.

County Road & Bridge Supervisor Mark Stacy was asked to weigh in. He pointed out that the use of county roads is growing at 20 percent per year everywhere. He said that there might be some economies of scale if the county was involved – that grading and applying mag chloride was about $5,500 per mile (the road area needing work is about .8 miles) and labor would add another $2,500 – if he had the staff time available.

Resident Trace Jones laid out the reality for commissioners. “When all this [maintenance agreement] was approved, what this is now wasn’t even envisioned – this is a trail complex now — it’s like comparing apples to pineapples.”

A decision was made by the commissioners to arrange a work session between the county, the HOA, Salida Mountain Trails and the BLM, to address the issue.

“We need to do that and we need to do it soon,” said Commissioner Keith Baker, who said he is a member of Salida Mountain Trails. “Those trails are a community asset, a community income generator … If it’s a community resource, then my inclination is we should find a fair solution. And it’s not a safe situation on that road.”

Image: Salida Mountain Trails