A Jeffco landmark is getting a makeover — and its one that officials say should be a win/win for the space and those who love to play there. Since the first portion of the South Table Mountain mesa …
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Learn more about South Table Mountain, and the park plan at www.jeffco.us/1430/South-Table-Mountain-Park
A Jeffco landmark is getting a makeover — and its one that officials say should be a win/win for the space and those who love to play there.
Since the first portion of the South Table Mountain mesa top was acquired by Jefferson County Open Space (JCOS) in 1995, the mesa's commanding views, unique topography and easy accessibility have made it one of the most popular hiking and recreation spots in Jeffco.
But that popularity comes with a price — and not a very pretty one to pay when it comes to the preservation of the very topography and habitats that make the mesa a draw in the first place.
Kristina Duff, a senior planner for JCOS, said one of the mesa's major issues is the preponderance of undesignated trails that have been formed by users of the space over the years, including more than 9.4 miles of such trails that actually are on private property.
Such undesignated trails account for the vast majority of the trails on the mesa — there were 7.1 miles of JCOS designated trails and 26.9 miles of undesignated trails at the start of the year.
“These undesignated trails fragment habitat, encourage the spread of noxious weeds, are often unsustainable in design causing erosion and can lead visitors to unknowingly trespass onto private property,” Duff said.
Enter the makeover process, officially known as the South Table Mountain Park Plan, which will create about 8.5 miles of new trails, including 2.8 miles of previously undesignated trails, while restoring about 20 miles of the undesignated trails to their natural state.
The new trails segments extend the existing trails further into the both western and far eastern sections of the mesa top and its flanks and are slated to be completed in 2021. The trail restoration effort will meanwhile involve closing the unmarked trails, reseeding them, and enforcing the closure with ranger presence.
As part of the project, JCOS is also installing nine new information kiosks at nine locations where visitors currently enter the park. JCOS is also planning to transition the entire park to a stay on trail regulation, which, as the name suggests will require all visitors to stay on designated trails while visiting the park.
Duff said that a 2019 community engagement survey found strong support for the stay on trail regulation, with 87% of respondents wanting more trails that are sensitive to plants and wildlife while 82% supported regulations like muddy trail closures and stay on trail requirements.
Duff said such regulations will also help to better protect the wildlife that resides at South Table Mountain, which include golden eagles and prairie falcons. Going forward, JCOS will also close certain sections of trail to protect nesting birds.
PLAN Jeffco, a volunteer organization dedicated to advocating for the preservation of open space in Jefferson County, expressed support for the plan in its July 2020 newsletter.
John Litz, a member of PLAN Jeffco and longtime resident of the county who first went up on South Table Mountain in 1954 back when it involved trespassing, said he is optimistic that social trails can be fully restored.
“I think the soil on top of South Table is very fertile,” he said. “Areas have been restored in the past and they've recovered very well in my experience.”
Litz said he is also optimistic that JCOS will eventually be able to bring more parking to the site, which he thinks will cut down on people creating new trails as a means of accessing the mountain from the development that surrounds it.
However, Craig Champlin, another longtime user of the trail who currently is a coach with Golden High School’s mountain biking team, said he has mixed feelings about the redevelopment. While he likes some of the new trails that are being added, he said he feels like of his favorite spots would no longer be accessible. He also notices more people on the mountain than ever.
Ultimately, Champlin said that while he appreciates the addition of more trails, he feels they are not sufficient.
“JCOS needs to get off their conservation mission and focus on recreation while leaving conservation to Clear Creek and other counties deeper in the mountains,” he said, noting that he feels there is room for more trails on Lookout Mountain and Mount Falcon, among other areas. “People want to get out and exercise. Trail density should not be a bad thing. Crown Hill in Jeffco is a perfect example of what Front Range trails should look like.”
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