It’s not the most well-traveled trail in Rocky Mountain National Park by a longshot, but it nevertheless threatens a prehistoric archaeological site and has caused serious concerns for the surrounding landscape.
The other problem? It’s not even an actual trail.
Instead, the one-mile Crater Trail is what’s known as a “social trail,” something that was created by people over time rather than intentionally by the National Parks Service, according to RMNP spokesperson Kyle Patterson.
And that’s why Rocky Mountain National Park wants to shut it down once and for all.
The Crater Trail starts near Milner Pass on Trail Ridge Road and heads above tree-line to a geologic feature called “the Crater.” Since it’s not an actual trail, Patterson says it’s steep and eroded in sections – and the foot traffic impacts alpine tundra.
Beyond that, this informal trail is virtually impassable in the winter due to its location and is closed from May to Aug. 15 during the bighorn lambing season.
This means it’s not open often, but even those few months of traffic are too much for park officials, who want to close it to public access and allow it to become re-vegetated.
It isn’t a new issue.
Patterson says the park closed the Crater Trail in 2014 and began seeking public input on what to do moving forward in August of that year. They had meetings in 2016 and finally completed an environmental assessment.
“Because we have a number of other projects and plans in the works, it can sometimes take a while,” Patterson wrote in an email.
It’s now 2017, and the park will host a public meeting to revisit the issue next week.
Patterson says the park has three alternatives to flat-out closing the trail: leave it as is, reconstruct it within the existing alignment or reroute it to a better location.
The NPS is a proponent of permanently closing the trail to “protect the natural and cultural resources in the park,” according to its website.
Of course, social trails aren’t a new issue by any means, though the Crater Trail is one of the oldest in the park, which saw more than 4.5 million visitors in 2016. That number is only expected to grow.
“With our increased visitation, we are seeing more social trails appearing and older social trails seeing more impacts,” Patterson wrote in an email.
To weigh in on the future of the Crater Trail, you can attend a meeting on Oct. 24 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Grand Lake Fire Protection District Station at 201 W. Portal Road in Grand Lake.
The issue will be up for public review for 30 days and comments will be accepted through Nov. 22. You can find more information and learn how to submit your comments here: http://bit.ly/2gMsFba