The Green Mountain Falls Board of Trustees rejected a resolution to declare a local disaster emergency and close the town’s system of trails.
In a meeting held via Zoom on July 21, 66 participants tuned in. Most who spoke were passionately against closing the trails while others expressed disgust at hiker behavior including littering.
Chief among the concerns expressed in the resolution was the increased risk of infection from the coronavirus due to an increase in hikers. It also highlights increased traffic, illegal parking, unsanitary conditions around trailheads and trails, human excrement found in neighborhoods and dangerous encounters between pedestrians and drivers.
“It’s the board’s responsibility to do what is best for the town,” said Mayor Jane Newberry. “As COVID spikes, we may have to make decisions quickly. I hope we don’t but it’s a possibility.”
Rocco Blasi, president of the recently disbanded trails committee, said he considered the proposal extreme. “Gov. (Jared) Polis and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have consistently encouraged the public to recreate outdoors responsibly because it’s good for mental and physical health,” he said.
“The trustees’ foremost duty is citizen protection and when I can’t get into my street or driveway and get flipped off, that is wrong,” said Ralph LoCascio, a former trustee. “Nobody has ever told me why we allow all these hikers when they don’t provide anything for us.”
Dick Bratton, former mayor and trustee, who founded the trails committee, disagreed, citing the hikers’ positive impact on the town’s sales-tax revenue via lodging and restaurants.
Mac Pitrone, who has served several times on the board, said the trails need to be closed for safety reasons. Most hikers don’t wear masks or practice social distancing, said Pitrone, who lives near the trailhead of Mt. Dewey. “And they don’t control their children; as a matter of fact, they cluster shoulder-to-shoulder, shout at anyone who has the nerve to drive around them to get to their homes.” Last month, the town closed the Mt. Dewey trail over a property dispute which has since been resolved.
A suggestion by Susan Davies, executive director of Trails and Open Space Coalition, took hold. “We are willing to help you with a volunteer ambassador program,” she said.
An ambassador program would include trained volunteers who would be on hand to provide education about trail etiquette. “A lot of what you’re talking about is indeed bad hiker behavior,” she said.
The volunteers could work in conjunction with the new Recreation, Parks and Trails Committee, Newberry said.
To date, 16 residents have applied to be on the committee, said Town Manager Angie Sprang.
But as COVID-19 cases in El Paso County increase, Trustee Margaret Peterson offered a reality check. “Regarding COVID, no matter what we decide to do, one of the big issues we need to look at is the schools’ ability to open in the fall,” she said. “If we want to see that happen we have to stop the spread.”
In other news, Sprang read a letter from the Teller County Fire Chiefs’ Association to Marshal Virgil Hodges, expressing “our ongoing and unwavering support and appreciation to the Green Mountain Falls’ Marshal’s Office.” The letter, signed by Chad Bauer, chief of the Florissant Fire Department and president of the association, included every fire chief in Teller and parts of El Paso and Douglas counties.
The next board meeting is 7 p.m. Aug. 4.