foothillsAfter months of often contentious meetings, and surveys, the Foothills Natural Areas Management Plan has been finalized and adopted. This area includes Coyote Ridge, Pineridge, Maxwell and Reservoir Ridge natural areas and the Foothills Trail.  Complete information has been embedded below or can be accessed on the Fort Collins Natural Areas Foothills page.

 

Here is some of the pertinent information pulled from the Executive Summary of the Foothills Natural Areas Management Plan Update. Complete information can be found via the embedded information below. 

Trails

The Department partners with various organizations and community members to improve conservation and recreation opportunities. Although not a part of this plan, recent projects include the Long View Trail (4.4 miles), the Fossil Creek Trail connection (1.2 miles), and the On the Rocks Trail at Bobcat Ridge Natural Area (1 mile). In the foothills, a new trail is underway that will connect Coyote Ridge Natural Area to the City of Loveland’s Prairie Ridge Natural Area and will provide a new experience for recreationists and three additional miles of trail. In addition, new land was recently added to Maxwell Natural Area that includes an additional 0.5 miles of trail. 

There are several potential new Foothills trails and trail connections. Two trails (in the Reservoir Ridge and Maxwell natural areas) were evaluated during this planning process. These trails were analyzed by staff using the IDF and informed by public feedback. A potential trail connection to Centennial Drive was considered at Pineridge Natural Area and determined to be not feasible due to safety concerns, lack of partner agency support, and sensitive ecological resources. For more information please see the 2018 Bureau of Reclamation’s Final Environmental Assessment for the Larimer County Resource Management Plan for Horsetooth Reservoir (Page 8: Other Trails). 

An additional three trails (that would connect to other trails) are currently in an exploration phase (see below)

Reservoir Ridge Natural Area Potential Short Loop Trail

One of the most striking results from the Foothills visitor use intercept survey was the homogeneity of respondent’s demographics. To understand what visitor-use opportunities might be attractive to a broader demographic, the Department conducted informal feedback opportunities for “non-visitors” at non-traditional locations. About half of the 168 informal feedback respondents and about half of the open house respondents indicated they might use a short loop interpretive trail.

Decision: After careful consideration of three trail alignments, a short loop interpretive trail will not be implemented at this time. Instead, the Department will deepen its strategic approach to attracting diverse visitors. Find the IDF summary here.

 

Maxwell Natural Area Potential Trail Additions

Although visitor use research revealed that crowding is not yet an issue at the four Foothills natural areas, Maxwell Natural Area is very popular and is adjacent to the proposed Hughes housing development. Two new interior east-west trail alignments to the top of Maxwell Natural Area were considered, however both alignments were within the state and globally imperiled mountain mahogany plant community.

Decision: A new interior trail to the top of Maxwell Natural Area will not be installed. Instead, the Department will contract with a professional trail builder to refresh the existing Maxwell trail to ensure sustainability while retaining the “fun” that makes the trail so well-loved. Community input will inform the trail refresh. The Department will also monitor the progress of the Hughes Redevelopment project and consider other management actions for Maxwell as appropriate. To address trail etiquette, Natural Areas will enhance education around keeping dogs on-leash, one earbud out, not riding too fast, giving verbal warnings when passing, and general trail courtesy for all users. Additionally, the Department is exploring a new trail (on the toe of the slope and parallel to the Foothills Trail) that connects Maxwell to Laporte Avenue and the Colorado State University Foothills Campus. Find the IDF here. 

 

Potential Trail Connections

The three trail connections described below involve various landowners, agency jurisdictions, and sensitive natural resources (please note, the Department only acquires land and easements from willing sellers). These factors will be understood and addressed through subsequent, project-level studies before a planning decision is made. When a given trail connection is considered feasible, the Department will use the IDF and public engagement to further understand the ecological, cultural, social, and administrative conditions of the proposed connections and facilitate a decision.

Maxwell Natural Area to Laporte Avenue - Exploration of a lower elevation and less technically difficult trail connection that would connect to Laporte Avenue and the CSU Foothills Campus has begun. This connection would require crossing land with a variety of ownership and easement status. The potential trail alignment would minimize impacts to wildlife habitat and avoid sensitive resources such as rare plant communities. In progress- inform the community of progress via the Natural Areas Department website and social media by 2020.

Cathy Fromme Prairie Natural Area to Coyote Ridge Natural Area- Exploration of this trail connection was included in the Fossil Creek Natural Areas Management Plan and has been underway since that plan was prepared. Planning this trail would occur concurrently with improvements to the Larimer County Landfill (i.e., capping and transfer station) and plans for the new Larimer County Mental Health Facility that will be built on the corner of Taft Hill Road and Trilby Road. Alignments for this trail connection are being explored that would minimize the impact to sensitive natural resources. In progress- inform the community of progress via Natural Areas Department website and social media by 2022.

Reservoir Ridge Natural Area to the Poudre Trail- Connecting the Foothills Trail to the Poudre Trail has been a long-time aspiration. A connection would require crossing private land parcels. The Department only acquires land and easements from willing sellers. This is a long-term goal; the timeline is unknown. 

Conclusion

The Foothills natural areas are a treasured community asset, hosting excellent wildlife and rare plant habitat, scenic views, and ample opportunities for the community to connect with nature. The challenge for the future will be sustaining the natural values of the Foothills natural areas amidst a period of significant population and recreation growth. The path forward will be guided by decision-making that is rooted in data gathering, professional judgement, best available science, and transparency, in alignment with the Natural Areas Department’s conservation mission.

 

The Foothills Natural Areas Management Plan Update Information Page