Trails coalition

BOULDER – Bet on the first six outdoor recreation companies to take quick advantage of a unique opportunity to contribute to trail use across Boulder County this year.

“We do have six places on our map for company logos, no advertising, just logos, at $1,000 apiece,´ said Suzanne Webel, vice president of the Boulder Area Trails Coalition. The coalition, with considerable effort, put together the most comprehensive map of trails available in Boulder County and is just about to put out the third edition.

BATCO’s goal is to represent the spectrum of non-motorized trail use across the county and aid in making trail availability and use a reality for as many county residents as possible. The map is by far the most visible fundraising mechanism employed by this nonprofit – every county trail user should have one – but the nonprofit 501(c)3 organization also can take direct, tax-deductible gifts as well.

“It took me over 100 maps to get a comprehensive map (in the first edition started in 1996,” Webel said. Her background in geology and love of maps came in considerably handy during a multi-year effort to stitch together the first map, which will be updated for release early next year.

“Our county is very fragmented when it comes to trails,” she said. “You go from Rocky Mountain National Park to small cities with their own trails, and none of them had coordinated their regional trail management. If you want to get from the national forest to the national park – they might show the trails but they didn’t show the big picture.”

Other intricacies, such as trail limitation – who could use them and when, for instance – often are left out.

More than 20,000 copies of the first editions of the map have sold, with nearly every dime of those proceeds going back into aiding trail development, or the actual cost of producing the maps. The maps sell for about $10 a pop, and are available at a wide range of outdoor recreation shops and other retail establishments.

BATCO has no paid staff and extremely limited administrative costs, so pretty much everything donated to this nonprofit organization goes into area trails. That may include capital costs to help fix flood-damaged trails this year. Enlisting that sort of funding is difficult for public agencies, but it is often the umbrella nature of the organization – representing interests from equestrian users to trail runners and dog owners – that often helps public agencies most.

“I think they’ve done a good job of trying to collect the different trail users into one approach – all the various components of trails users,´ said Ron Stewart, director of Boulder County Open Space. “We really appreciate the help they’ve been.”

Representing interests ranging from mountain bikers to trail runners, dog walkers and horse riders may seem like a heavy burden of collaboration, but the group has seen a great deal of success in creating that consensus, especially in helping projects such as the Trail Around Boulder move forward.

“It would only take 34 miles of trail to create the circle around Boulder, and we only need six or seven more miles to fill in the gaps between the existing trails,” Webel said. “More funding could allow us to help City of Boulder Open Space to complete the trails – if it (a connection between trails) costs $60,000, and we could offer $30,000, maybe we could get it done.”

TAB is only one aspect of the trails around the county in which BATCO participates, but it is important to the group because it represents the spectrum of trail users the organization seeks to serve and could be a high-visibility project both in terms of local usage and national acclaim.

Past BATCO president Peter Bakwin, a celebrated trail runner and ultra-marathoner who grew up in Boulder, said it brings back a vision that the city first used to initialize open space purchases in the 1970s – a “greenbelt” that everyone could enjoy.

“Now we have the greenbelt, and in a sense it completes the program to have a continuous trail that lets people explore the whole, amazing area,” Bakwin said. “It covers all the main environments of our area – foothills, agricultural fields, rolling prairies, creekside areas.”

However, he added, “this vision gets bogged down in the interminable management plans and trail study-area plans. The city is years and years behind the schedule it set for itself as recently as 2005.”

For those people whose finances might not allow for a donation to the group this year, current president David Blankinship said volunteers always are welcome, especially volunteers interested in public policy. BATCO does coordinate volunteer “hands-on” efforts, such as flood repair work at Walker Ranch on Nov. 9, but Blankinship said the group also needs people who can attend some of the multitude of meetings that go on around the county.

“There are just too many meetings for us to currently attend,” he said. “We’re always looking for people who really want to get involved. There are many good opportunities for people to really make a difference here.”