The Trail Beckons

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The part of the trail as maintained by the City of Gunnison. It’s easy to feel very rural until you look up and see a welter of power lines.

Oz and I went for a longer walk than intended yesterday. We were off-schedule to accommodate packing plans, so we set out earlier, by a good hour and a half, than we usually go. The morning was overcast but pleasant, so we just kept walking, even though we were supposed to be on a timetable.

As we started across the park just a block from our house, I idly wondered how many times I have walked across that same ground. The ground is chopped up these days, because the city installed five pickleball courts and cut down a lot of trees unnecessarily in the process for reasons that still are not clear. The restoration of the park has been more than lackadaisical, and much of what remains between the courts and the cottonwood stumps is mud.

But it’s still ground I’ve traversed with three different dogs now, so the number of times I’ve walked that way has to be in the thousands, if not tens of thousands.

When my family moved to the Palisades subdivision in 1969, there was no park at the end of the street. The subdivision was still in process, with Quartz Street not yet in place, and the park area was filled with willows and cottonwoods run amuck. To this day, I will maintain it was a better place to play then than it ever has been as a park.

The park itself has always been very poorly laid out, with the restrooms as far removed as they could possibly be from the play area for little children. The city had design meetings a few years back, and of course I went to one, but instead of fixing infrastructure issues (like moving the restrooms closer to the tennis courts and the kiddie area), the city opted to add a play element that I have never seen a single kid on, along with the pickleball courts, which are wildly popular among people my age and older.

I must confess, though, as a non-pickleball player, that I will not miss the noise (the thwok of paddle hitting ball that much be must harder than a tennis ball reaches quite clearly to our house) nor the congestion of cars around the park.

Since we were earlier than usual yesterday, and perhaps because it was overcast, there was nary the sight nor sound of a pickleball player as Oz and I picked our way through the mud to the Van Tuyl trail system.

Here’s how this worked: a rancher named Ray Van Tuyl, who kept carving southern pieces of his ranch off and selling them to subdivision developers, somehow still found himself in a financially precarious position I think in the ’80s, perhaps the ’90s. Some time. He ended up selling the remainder of his ranch to the City of Gunnison, who leased it back to him while he was alive. The city’s main objective was to gain a recharge area for the aquifer.

[Mr. Van Tuyl must have rebounded financially, because he left a chunk of land he still retained, along with some decent money, to our local library to build a new building. A bond issue on that takes place this fall.]

And, back in the 1960s, the Bureau of Reclamation flooded a lot of ground while creating Blue Mesa Reservoir, and to this day owes someone — the people of Gunnison County? The citizens of the United States? — riverbank mitigation.

As part of that, somehow (my details are fuzzy, and I’m not bothering with research this morning), the Bureau of Reclamation gained control of the riverbank portion of the Van Tuyl Ranch, along with a 100-foot-wide access swath from the park west to the river. This was then turned over to what is now Colorado Parks and Wildlife (then Colorado Division of Wildlife) for management.

When this access first opened to the public, there was no formal path to the river, and the DOW (now CPW) used a series of power poles to mark the way. An informal footpath sprung up soon enough, worn mostly by fisherfolk and a few hardy walkers like me and Reprieve.

By the time Ashoka came along, the pasture on either side of the path had been fenced in wildlife-friendly fencing (two strands of barbed wire between top and bottom strands of non-barbed wire so animals don’t tear themselves up going over or under), and the City of Gunnison, with very little understanding of the hydrology of hayfields, started bulldozing trails.

A member of my activist group, Butch Clark, used to suggest over and over at public meetings that the city consider boardwalks that

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This is a bridge, but it is preceded by several boardwalks that look quite similar. Note we still have powerlines.

would allow water to flow unimpeded underneath the foot traffic — and it only took someone about 15-20 years to listen to him.

The more “civilized” those paths have become, the more human activity takes place. And that’s a good thing, really, but as someone accustomed to having his own private path to the river, I find it much too crowded for my liking.

It’s actually a tremendous amenity for the city, and it should be used. It gets people out and walking, running or biking; it gets them out in both nature and ranchland (you can see where your food comes from, and someday soon I want to tackle the cows-as-methane versus how I think they help the environment, at least here); and it’s a beautiful area immediately bordering the urban streetscape.

But it’s crowded (not really; just for people who are spoiled), and since Oz comes to work with me anyway, he and I usually take our morning walk in the opposite direction, wandering the streets and alleys of Gunnison.

But we weren’t working (ha! Packing is plenty of work) yesterday, so we ventured out to the Van Tuyl trails, and just kept heading west. Usually, about halfway to the river we turn around (due to time constraints), but yesterday we kept going.

And here’s a sign of how outdoors-challenged I’ve become: the boardwalks give way to a gravel path that gives way to the original dirt-and-grass footpath. Near the river was a boggy spot, and I just about turned around, because I’ve become that sanitized. I finally talked the two of us across it to reach the river.

Maybe because it was overcast, and maybe because big changes are happening in my life, but I was a touch melancholy, like this might be the last time I ever tread that path.

Which is stupid, because it’s not like I’m moving that far away. Some Day it may even be that the paths at Riverwalk connect to the Van Tuyl trails.

But for now, the chances are high that Oz and I will stay closer to home with the nice paths we have at our new house (even if ownership in several places is still not clear to me), and I don’t know when we will be back to see the river in the spot I’ve frequented so many times over the last three decades.

It’s not going away, although it becomes ever-more gentrified. Maybe, if I get up early enough (like on days I need to be packing) and it’s overcast enough to discourage fair-weather enthusiasts, I can still go out on the trail CPW built just for me.

End of the trail: a river still running high and the Palisades for which our subdivision is named. And look! You can still see powerlines.

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