COMPREHENSIVE LANDSCAPE PLANNING
THE MIDDLE BOULDER CREEK WATERSHED
Middle Boulder Creek Coalition
The landscape encompassing the Middle Boulder Creek watershed has been undergoing significant changes over the past 20 years. Fueled by human population growth, the desire for more recreational amenities, and the fear of fire, the landscape is seeing more homes, trails and forest management.
Proposed expansions at Eldora Mountain Resort are another example of human induced recreational growth. If approved and constructed, the proposed expansions will bring ski runs, lifts, snowmaking, and snow grooming to the doorstep of two creeks – Middle Boulder and Jenny. The deforestation caused by the creation of ski runs will diminish the ability of the hillsides to contain runoff and sediment. The planned improvements will increase habitat fragmentation, which will now fully span from near the edge of Middle Boulder Creek, continue over the east flank of Bryan Mountain, and continue to near the edge of Jenny Creek. This represents a 60% increase in the north-south length of the ski area from what exists today. Animal movement will be disrupted and there will be the loss of plants and animals that favor dense forests, which at this elevation are more sensitive to habitat loss than those that favor forest edge and strips of grassland. The proposed expansion will bring more vehicular traffic to the Nederland area: while some of this may be a car trip shorter in length than going to the west slope for skiing, it is likely that any diminish of the carbon footprint will be more than offset by the electricity needed for snowmaking on the new slopes.
Need to Look at the Larger Landscape
The decision by the Forest Service to allow Eldora Mountain Resort to begin improvements within their current boundaries while deferring the decision on expansion outside of it could allow for some further analysis and needed rethinking about what we are doing to the larger landscape. This would be a good time to look at the cumulative impacts on the local environment of not only the expansion of the ski area, but also the continual increase in use of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, the high density trail system that exists and is being expanded in West Magnolia, the planned trail linking West Magnolia to Jenny Creek, the proposed development between the Town of Nederland and the Jr/Sr High School, and the extensive forest management occurring along Magnolia Road. All of these actions have a set of impacts. They increase the footprint of the human infrastructure, which causes ripples throughout the local environment.
For example, the Hessie-Lost Lake area is a heavily used gateway into the Indian Peaks Wilderness. But management of the area has changed little from when the area was first designated as wilderness in the late 1970s. The area was not designated wilderness but receives the heaviest recreational use. This area is a bottleneck used not only by humans but also wildlife accessing the wilderness. Expansion of the ski area down to Middle Boulder Creek only tightens the bottleneck. This entire segment of the Middle Boulder Creek watershed, from Hessie to the wilderness boundary, needs the proper planning, attention, and respect it deserves in order for it to provide access for people and animals to and from the wilderness.
Comprehensive landscape planning is needed for the Middle Boulder Creek watershed and its surrounding environment so we can better assess the impacts of expanding the human footprint. The process should include all of the stakeholders. Other than the elk migration study already done, we actually know very little about how wildlife currently moves around this area, so basic data gathering will be an important task. But in the end, if the project is a success, it should be a win-win for the watershed, animals and plants, as well as the people that live, make a living, and recreate in the area.