Dewey Mountain access route stirs big community debate

Photo0442Trail Wars

Dewey Mountain access route stirs big community debate

Rick Langenberg

A plan to unlock the official gates to a new recreational playground and hiking mecca in the Ute Pass, overlooking Green Mountain Falls, continues to stir much debate with the same conclusion: no legal access.

The Ute Pass trail impasse occurred following another lively hearing last week in the Green Mountain Falls Town Hall.

On March 2, GMF elected leaders once again refused to make a final verdict regarding a proposed access route to the nearly 150-acre Dewey Mountain area, located directly north of GMF, despite a volley of support from local trails buffs. At the same time, an 11th-hour citizens’ petition was submitted by former GMF Trustee Mac Pitrone against the planned trailhead, located inside a residential neighborhood.

At the request of Mayor Lorrie Worthey, a decision was delayed until March 17 to allow the board of trustees to talk more with the property owners that will be impacted by a new proposed access route.

The Dewey Mountain property is owned by the Historic Green Mountain Falls Foundation, which purchased the area to preserve more open space for the community and to provide more recreational opportunities for residents and visitors. During last week’s hearing, Jesse Stroop, a representative of the GMF Foundation, spoke in favor of opening up the area to local residents and using an access route proposed by the local trails committee off Myrtle Street. As part of this plan, the trails group would construct a 260-foot access trail at the end of Myrtle Street, leading directly into the Dewey Mountain property that is currently used by many hikers and horse riders illegally.

Dewey Mountain is known as one of the more scenic, unobstructed side routes to the North Catamount Reservoir and is a prime hiking destination in the winter because it is a south-sloping area and receives plenty of sunshine. According to GMF trails committee leaders, it has been a landmark area since the town’s birth in the 19th century, and has abounded as a popular spot for equestrian riders, scouting groups and hikers.

Dick Bratton, a former mayor and the veteran chairman of the trails committee, urged the board to allow the town to accept this generous land donation by okaying the trail group’s access plan. He stressed the fact that this issue has undergone much public comment and debate for nearly a year, with the committee exploring a wide variety of access options. “We got a lot of people (commenting on this issue). It was a good public process,” said Bratton.

As for advantages of the group’s final plan, Bratton said the trail route would allow the landowners a way to legally access their own property. Moreover, he said it would provide a single access route and end the current social trail system in which people cut through private property illegally. “This keeps hikers from trespassing,” said Bratton.

The trails chairman received much support for the committee’s access plan from citizens who attended the hearing. They mostly cited the fact that Green Mountain Falls is known for its trails and maintained that this is part of the community’s heritage.

“I don’t know of any better access for this,” said resident Tom McCormick. “You have to start a trail someplace.”

“It sure makes life worthwhile,” said resident Gordon Wise, in describing the access to Dewey Mountain area. Moreover, he stressed the fact that while Green Mountain Falls and the Ute Pass don’t abound in great big-city amenities, the community offers unrivaled “access to nature.”

Author and local resident Claudia Eley agreed, noting, “The trails are part of our heritage.” She noted they also provide a boon for local tourism.

However, not everyone attending last week’s hearing was thrilled about the proposed trailhead to Dewey Mountain. “Please don’t put this trail in the middle of our neighborhood,” said Kimberly Hargrave, who lives near the access route and has been a vocal opponent of the Dewey Mountain access. She questioned why the Foundation and local leaders have ignored the concerns of local neighbors.

Pitrone, who lives on Myrtle Street, presented the board with a petition signed by nearly 30 citizens, who expressed opposition to the Dewey Mountain access route. He noted that the residents aren’t against having more trails, but objected to the specific trailhead plan proposed by the trails committee inside a populated residential neighborhood. “In their zeal to have more trails, the committee has overlooked the problems they would create,” said Pitrone, in reading the letter signed by local neighbors in the area, in regards to the proposed trailhead.

He also questioned Bratton’s claim that most adjacent property owners support the new proposed access route. Pitrone suggested changing the access route altogether to make it link to the current Catamount Trail, located a large distance away from any residential neighborhood. In addition, he cited concerns by some neighbors involving the maintenance of the current GMF trails.

Town attorney Matt Krob urged the board not to get into a ‘he said, she said’ fight over the issue. He noted that the board had a number of options, and if it approved the proposed access route, would have to formalize the agreement by issuing a right-of-way permit and parking plan. Bratton though, objected to haggling over this much bureaucracy for a trail that would be constructed by local volunteers.

Most trustees appeared to support the idea of opening up this area to the public with a town access trail. “It is an appropriate use of public property,” said Trustee Chris Quinn. “This is what Green Mountain Falls is known for,” said Trustee Dave Cook, in describing the popularity of its burgeoning trails system.

Several elected leaders also raised a few questions about the citizens’ petition, and whether many of the signatures came from people in the actual neighborhood. The trustees also gave the cold shoulder to the alternate plan proposed by Pitrone, saying this wasn’t a realistic alternative.

Worthey said she likes the access route proposed by the trails committee, but just wanted the opportunity to discuss the planned trailhead with the main property owner who could be affected prior to making a final decision.

The Dewey Mountain situation, and a bevy of other issues, is slated for a final decision at the board’s next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, March 17.