What’s the Deal With the Canal Bridge?

It was there. Then, it wasn’t. Now, it’s back again. What happened?

The Strand Hill trail network is located in an area with deep roots in Gunnison Valley’s stock growing heritage. Many of the trails in the area, such as Strand Bonus and Canal Trail, were created by livestock and wildlife, and others with the help later on from motorized use (Farris and Strawberry). The area is almost entirely managed by the US Forest Service, and the land is permitted for grazing cattle, which is why you see gates, walkovers, and multiple users amongst the cattle.

As seen in many places in the Gunnison Valley, increased recreation impacts local ranchers and livestock, and the Strand system has experienced some conflict, especially this past year with the Canal Bridge. 

The Canal Trail, the Canal Bridge, and the ditch in the Canal Trail exit are entirely on US Forest Service managed land. Cold Spring Ranch has rights to the water in the ditch and maintains proper flow of the water through the ditch. For years, users have been placing rocks to serve as “stepping stones” in the water at the original crossing to keep their feet dry. According to concerned ranchers, these rocks disrupt proper stream flow, which is their right to manage and maintain.

Initial bridge installation (2019)

Thinking that bikers had put the rocks there, Cold Spring Ranch called CBMBA in 2015 and asked that a bridge be put in so that people would stop putting rocks in the ditch. CBMBA contacted the USFS Gunnison Ranger District to discuss the requested bridge and obtain permission to install an adequate crossing. Upon learning that the USFS was involved, Cold Spring Ranch retracted the request for CBMBA to pursue a bridge at the Canal Trail exit. The issue with users installing their own rock crossings continued.

In 2019, at a Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation (STOR) Committee meeting, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) announced a grant process for watershed improvements. Stockgrowers approached CBMBA and asked if we would apply for a grant to construct the bridge across the Strand Hill Canal Ditch. With permission from the USFS, CBMBA applied for and received the grant, and pursued working with the stakeholders to design, build, and install the bridge. The current location was identified because it would require the smallest bridge, therefore eliminating the need to place pilings into the water itself. It also moved the trail to higher ground, taking the existing trail out of the often wet and sensitive riparian area. The original crossing was to be left open for traditional uses, specifically cattle movement.

In June 2019, CBMBA began installation of the bridge, as well as the trail required before and after the bridge. In August, the bridge was removed by Cold Spring Ranch, leaving many scratching their heads. You may have noticed the large sign that was placed at the Cold Spring on Brush Creek Road where Cold Spring Ranch has allowed people to get fresh water. The handwritten message instructed CBMBA members to contact the Cold Spring Ranch attorney for information about the bridge. 

Being a USFS project on USFS managed lands, the bridge is the property of the Federal Government. Cold Spring Ranch believed the bridge and trail installed impeded the flow of water to the ranch, and therefore had it removed.  

This past January, Cold Spring Ranch and the USFS were brought together by a local citizen who wanted to help move the conversation forward. The USFS agreed to mitigate concerns about impeded water flows and seepage, and notified Cold Spring Ranch the bridge would be re-installed.  

Bridge removed (Aug 2019)

On June 25th, at the direction of the USFS/Gunnison Ranger District, the CBCC re-installed the original bridge in its original location, with a further raised foundation for better clearance of the water below and any obstacles that may be in the water. CBMBA is monitoring the bridge for obstructions, has documented any seepage and sidehill erosion, and will continue to do so into the future. CBMBA plans to work alongside the USFS to help reinforce the ditch if the need arises, and to continue maintaining the trail and bridge. We will also help revegetate the sensitive riparian area where the old access was, and the old creek crossing will be maintained for its historic use and access. If seepage and flow continue to be of concern, then efforts to mitigate that impeded flow can be done with preventative measures in the ditch itself.  

CBMBA and the CBCC, in partnership with the USFS, are committed to continued maintenance and regular monitoring of the Canal Trail, the bridge, and the ditch flow. We are proud to partner with the USFS and the UGRWCD to assure that Cold Spring Ranch will continue to benefit from their full water right, and that the public will have improved access to public land. 

The bridge has returned to its original location and is ready for use

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