The importance of the Headwaters Trail Alliance

Headwaters Trail Alliance (HTA) celebrates the redesign of a popular trail in Winter Park to make it more sustainable and more user friendly. The project was a collaboration between HTA, the Unites States Forest Service and the Towns of Winter Park and Fraser, which have been their primary funding partners. In the future, HTA hopes to work more with Kremmlng.

by Tara Walker
BOCC reporter

On November 14, Executive Director of Headwater Trails Alliance, Meara McQuain gave a presentation to the Grand County Board of County Commissioners explaining the importance of the Headwater Trails Alliance (HTA) to Grand County and the need for adequate funding to continue their important work on trails in the county.

Established in 1996, Headwaters Trails Alliance is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization in Grand County dedicated to identifying, maintaining, and expanding an accessible, interconnected trail system for the appropriate multiuser groups.

McQuain emphasized to county commissioners that the primary goal of HTA is to provide high quality trails linking towns and recreational areas within Grand County, as well as secondary trail systems, historical, cultural and community amenities. HTA is the only trail/recreation based organization dedicated to the management, maintenance and betterment of trails in Grand County. HTA is under contract with the US Forest Service and BLM to maintain trails in the Fraser Valley.

HTA provided information showing that Grand County has more trails than any other county, yet the funding for trails maintenance in Grand County is significantly less than any other area in Colorado and has less funded manpower than any other county. Grand County currently has over 1,000 miles of trails that are enjoyed by residents and visitors yearly. McQuain gave facts and information showing that trail counters, trailhead registers & parking lot counts in Grand County indicate that trail usage in the last two years is up an estimated 18-23%.

McQuain explained, “Most communities that we compete with are deciding as a municipality or county that investing in outdoor recreation and trails is a smart proposition moving forward, and I am hoping that in bringing awareness to Grand County Commissioners, they will see the picture that investing in trails benefits tourism, businesses and residents. It is environmentally and economically sustainable.” HTA has only 1.75 full time employees to manage over 700 miles of trail maintenance in Grand County and over 1500 volunteer hours while coordinating with BLM and USFS and all Grand county municipalities on a 300k total budget. In comparison, Mesa County’s Parks Landscapes and Open Spaces department has a $2.9M budget with $209K for trails and $330K for personnel. Mesa County also gets additional assistance from Grand Valley Trails Alliance, COPMOBA, Greater Grand Junction Sports Commission, Outdoor Recreation Coalition of the Grand Valley.

While Meara McQuain recognizes the lack of funding and support is impacting Grand county trails, she also appreciates all that are contributing. “Chris Baer with Grand County Roads and Bridges has been amazing and super helpful. We are embarking on a process of shared resources, but we still aren’t there.”

Ballot measure 1a (passed November of 2016) is also a great step in the right direction, but there are limitations. Ballot Measure 1a established a 0.3 percent sales tax that should help with HTA funding, but she is concerned because there is 15% cap for trails and a competitive grant process for funding so HTA isn’t guaranteed to receive those tax dollars.

The Board of County Commissioners expressed their thanks for Meara’s information and assured her that they understand the impact that HTA has on Grand County Trails and that they will do everything in their power to help HTA receive funding when they apply for the 1A dollars. Grand Trails Alliance works closely with BLM. HTA hopes to get a maintenance program together to positively impact the trails in the Kremmling area as well since the Wolford trail system is a concern. McQuain explains that the Kremmling area is so important because it is lower in elevation and has some of the first trails to open in the season as well as the last trails to close when winter arrives.

However, Kremmling last assisted with HTA funding two years ago when the municipality contributed $3,000. McQuain explains that HTA is completely sympathetic to trails in Kremmling and has assessed Wolford trails to determine that they need work. There is no shortage of need in the Kremmling area, but with limited staff and resources, it is difficult to help especially if Kremmling and other municipalities aren’t on board to help with funding. McQuain assures, “We will give Kremmling, Hot Sulphur, Granby and Grand Lake a thorough trails plan that they can use, but it’s not free. It’s a big project. We would like to have everyone back on board and supporting the organization.”

Headwaters Trails Alliance are going to need stakeholders for the master trails plan in process and any individual that has ideas or opinions or is an engaged community member that wants to participate is encouraged to email or call Meara McQuain with Grand Trails Alliance. HTA will send out notifications of community meetings and stakeholder opportunities starting in January. They welcome volunteers and all projects are posted on Facebook and on the HTA website at Donations are also accepted on their website.