WEMUC wins support of GarCo Commissioners

Winter trail system wins Garfield County commissioners’ support
Multi-use club secures $4,000 for operating expenses

by John Colson

A group of volunteers, after creating and maintaining what one man called “‘the best kept winter secret’ in Garfield County,” now enjoys public support after a meeting with the Board of County Commissioners this week.

The “secret” is a small cross-country skiing trail system in western Garfield County, which has been in existence since 2002 but has had a low public profile, according to Todd Tibbetts, executive director of the West-Elk Multi-Use Club.

County commissioners Trési Houpt and John Martin (Mike Samson was absent) agreed to put $4,000 into the county budget to help defray the operating costs of the club, and to assist in the purchase of trail-grooming equipment.

But, as Martin told Tibbetts on Monday, there is no guarantee that the contribution will make it through the budget process, which this year is focused on savings in preparation for hard economic times ahead.

“We’ll just have to see how it goes,” Martin said, after suggesting that there may be other, better ways to meet the group’s financial needs than the county’s general fund.

Tibbetts told the commissioners that the system was created, and the West Elk club formed, with plans “to mark, maintain and promote trails in the White River National Forest north of Rifle, Silt and New Castle for horseback riding, hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and dog sledding.”

As it stands, Tibbetts said, the group has worked with the USFS district offices to install a three-loop winter trail system, roughly 10 miles long, that starts on Forest Road 819 about 16 miles north of New Castle on the Buford Road.

“The club has also organized a number of volunteer projects that have cleared horseback trails going from Rifle Mountain Park to the Triangle Park area, connecting to an existing network of pack trails on the Flat Tops,” Tibbetts told the commissioners, reading from a prepared statement.

Although the system has primarily been used by cross-country skiers, Tibbetts said, the group hopes to broaden its scope as well as its funding base.

To date, he said, the group has subsisted on donations from users and private supporters, and has relied on volunteer labor using private equipment to take care of maintenance and clearing. Tibbetts said the group pays $700 a year for liability insurance, and that its budget calls for $1,250 in operating expenses and $700 for trail maintenance.

Tibbetts told the commissioners that, as part of its overall ambitions, the club is hoping to “broaden their financial support by reaching out to entities that would have an interest in supporting the regional recreation amenities” initiated by the West Elk group.

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