The town of Breckenridge and Breckenridge Ski Resort conducted a lengthy discussion Tuesday night concerning a proposal to expand summer gondola hours. The most contentious issue, however, was setting a completion date for the Peaks Trail bypass, which would allow mountain bikers, hikers and other users to circumvent Cucumber Gulch.
“There is a lot of sensitivity for the Cucumber Gulch Preserve Area and what is the effect on the preserve when the gondola is running,” Dykstra said. “It’s a fairly rare area in terms of some of the species that are around there.”
The BreckConnect gondola has been in operation since 2009 and began running in the summer in 2010. The most recent proposal would include a three-year permission to begin a summer schedule on the Friday before the second weekend of June, ending on Labor Day.
Under these terms, the gondola would be in operation from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through June, and 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Labor Day.
The agreement also specifies that the ski resort will work with the town to construct the remainder of the Peaks Trail bypass by Oct. 31, 2019.
“With the development that has happened at the base of Peak 7 and Peak 8, that has created challenges for bikers and hikers,” Dykstra explained. “One of the solutions was to build this connection to the Peaks Trail.”
The updated proposal met all but two of the Breckenridge Open Space Advisory Commission’s recommendations: BOSAC sought a three-year permission with no automatic renewal and a sooner completion date for the Peak Trail bypass.
“I believe over time the gondola should run more frequently as more development is built on the hill,” councilman Gary Gallagher said. “I’m satisfied with the compromise that has come up because we can take baby steps toward fuller use of the gondola operation. It’s also consistent with us trying to bring more events into town during shoulder season.”
Gallagher did express one concern with the agreement that stemmed from vague language on whether Breckenridge would be able to dial back hours of operation if an issue did arise.
“What does the town have, at the end of the day, to do what the town needs to do in terms of protecting the environment, Cucumber Gulch, whatever the issues are?” Gallagher asked. “To me, this is a trial: We have ability to look at it every year, and, if we have to cut it back or call it back, we have the prerogative to do so.”
Councilwomen Wendy Wolfe and Elisabeth Lawrence also expressed support of the change in hours.
“I increasingly would like to see the gondola used for an efficient form of transportation into town,” Wolfe said. “We have to work these tradeoffs by getting more people out of their cars.”
However, two councilmembers, Erin Gigliello and Mark Burke, brought forward concerns with the current state of the gondola lot, though not a part of the agreement at hand.
“Increased use of the gondola means increased use of the gondola lot,” Gigliello said, noting concerns about the lack of lighting, drainage and pavement in the area.
“We want a relationship — I just want to be very frank with you as a guy who’s gonna be here for two years,” Burke said. “I would never vote to commit town dollars to pave a private business lot. At what point do we get the ski area to come to us and say, we know these things are important?”
CUTTING A TRAIL
Town council also presented mixed opinions on the dates presented for the Peaks Trail bypass, set to be completed by the end of October 2019 under the current agreement.
Jeff Zimmerman, director of mountain planning for Vail Resorts, noted the timeframe stemmed from finishing the arduous National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process, as well as giving time to dedicate volunteers to the project.
“We’re committed to doing it; we just need some time to get it done,” Zimmerman said. “We would prefer to be able to finish the project within a three-year timeframe. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to come in and build one section of trail that doesn’t go anywhere.”
Breckenridge chief operating officer John Buhler added that getting time to procure the needed equipment and planning for bridges and other items would also take time.
“We have the manpower but not necessarily the equipment,” Buhler said.
Some councilmembers hoped to see the trail constructed by the fall of 2017, though others offered a compromise for 2018.
“I just have to tell you, I have been discussing this trail my entire time on council and even before that,” councilman Ben Brewer said. “I have a level of frustration with a request to put this out another three-and-a-half years after discussing it for the last four or five.”
Open space and trails planner Scott Reid noted the project crosses technical terrain, including bridge crossings and would be best approached as a hand-constructed project.
“What you have in front of you is where you are. You are guaranteed it gets done by 2019,” Reid said. “Epic Promise is certainly a resource going toward completion.”
“It has been a slow process, but I will interject that NEPA process is part of that slowness and I’m frankly glad that NEPA process is just about done,” Mayor John Warner added.
With that, he added he would like to see the trail completed by 2018.