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New map puts BATCO "on the map:" a tale of perseverance and reward

The Boulder Area Trails Coalition (BATCO) has recently released its Comprehensive Trail Map of Boulder County.

By Suzanne Webel

Map of Colorado

If you wanted to know, until now, what official trails exist in Boulder County, Colorado, you would have had to obtain more than a hundred different maps. Even then, you still would not have had complete knowledge because some jurisdictions don't produce any maps showing their trails. You'd also have had a jumble of information because each jurisdiction's maps are at different scales, show different information, and offer no visible relationship between their holdings and adjacent areas. Finally, you would have had to invest a significant amount of time tracking down all this material, and a fair amount of money purchasing all the maps (only a few small ones are free).

If you had happened to wonder aloud why your local government hadn't already put together such a map— after all, Boulder has something of a reputation as "Trail Town USA", with more than 65% of the entire county in public land ownership— you would have been astounded to learn that your local government really didn't want the public to use their public lands, so they weren't about to make it easy for people to find out where the trails were. If you then decided that that was all the more reason to make the map yourself, you might have become inspired to form a trail advocacy coalition and to apply for a mapmaking grant from your state lottery fund, only to find out that no category of grants for mapmaking existed. If you then proved as stubbornly dedicated to the project as you had been visionary, and were willing to invest ten years of your life to seeing it through to fruition, you would appreciate my eventual satisfaction in being able to announce— TA DA!— that "The Boulder Area Trails Coalition (BATCO) has recently released its Comprehensive Trail Map of Boulder County!"

Now for a few words on how this project all came together, and some explanation about life as a recreationist in the People's Republic of Boulder. I'm a geologist by training, making my living studying maps of all kinds and getting around in the backcountry of many places in the United States. So, I love maps. And I'm an avid outdoor recreationist in my spare time. I've lived in Boulder County for more than 30 years, which happened to coincide with the spectacular development of several generously-funded city and county "open space" programs whose lands complement vast National Forest, National Park, Bureau of Land Management, and State Park holdings.

For a few years Boulder seemed like a slice of heaven— some trails got built and there were lots of great new places to explore close to home. But gradually I began to notice that land was still being acquired at prodigious rates and was duly being protected from rampant development all around us, but no new trails were being built, existing trails were being closed, and new open space acquisitions were not being opened for public access. It occurred to me that what we had now, in fact, were several great "closed space" programs.

Upon closer inspection, a small faction of extreme environmentalists had quietly, but effectively, seized on the following mantra to engineer a paradigm shift in public land management: "The mere passing presence of a single human being across the landscape irreversibly damages the entire ecosystem." I, like other responsible recreationists, had suddenly been cast as villains in a battle for the planet. The term "recreationist" was being hurled at trail users as an epithet by the environmentalists, although most of us considered ourselves environmentalists as well. It became the War of the Trails. I decided we needed to change the paradigm back to where popular trails would once again be viewed as successes, not threats.

In 1996 several other recreationists and I founded the Boulder Area Trails Coalition (BATCO) as a not-for-profit corporation in the State of Colorado, whose mission is to promote non-motorized, multi-use, environmentally responsible trail systems. One of our first projects was to make a map of Boulder County's existing, designated (legal) trails, which would be for sale to the recreation community and could be used for planning purposes by public land management agencies as well. Back in those primitive days, maps were still made by hand, so I drafted the first BATCO map using colored pencils!

After completing the first draft, we realized that we would have to find a draftsman to make several layers of the map, which would then have to be made into films for printing, and changes would be difficult. We knew that every step of producing the map would be complicated and expensive, and that our nonprofit organization could never afford to publish it ourselves, so we decided to apply to the Great Outdoors Colorado (Lottery) fund for a grant. However, we never dreamed that our little project would meet with vehement opposition from the very agencies and environmental groups we worked with on a daily basis. Their fears that our map might— gasp!— help people to get out to enjoy our public lands became magnified into an enormous controversy, and I actually received hate mail from some anonymous individuals as well as vilifications in the local newspaper.

The county wouldn't release its database of land ownership to us. And the State agency that awarded grants for outdoor recreation projects had never been asked to fund a map, so there were no funds available for a project of this kind. Our grant application was rejected.

Well, part of changing paradigms is working to change little obstacles along the way. We pleaded with the state to create a funding category for maps, and they recognized that as a reasonable proposal. We reasoned with the local agencies, promising (as we had all along) to show only designated trails and including lots of information about public land stewardship, responsible appreciation of natural resources, and trail etiquette. We researched habitat issues and presented our findings at countless public meetings, and promised that we were not out to built trails on every inch of public land. We pointed out that we should be allies— not enemies— in our common goal of controlling urban sprawl and preserving wild places, earning the begrudging respect of the environmental community. Meanwhile, we kept the draft BATCO map alive and current.

It was probably a good thing our first grant application was rejected, because the world had changed in the interim. Computers had become more powerful; maps could be created electronically and updated with a mere keystroke. The public land ownership data became available for free on the county's website. Demand for the map had increased steadily, so we were able to garner broad support from the community, including from some who had initially opposed us. We got seed money and small matching grants from various private entities. The cost of some elements of the map had gone down, but others had gone up, making it was clear we would still need financial help. So the next time we went back to the state for a grant, it was approved. Even then, it took another five years to complete the project. But finally it is done, and the accolades are pouring in!

For the first time ever, there is now a single map showing all designated trails in Boulder County, with a colorful overlay indicating which public land agency owns and manages them (until now, there has been substantial confusion about ownership and why regulations may change along the length of a particular trail as it passes from one jurisdiction to another). Trails are color- and pattern-coded to show routes open to various user groups, as well as the trail surface of each trail, such as single track, 4WD road, and concrete greenway. The map also shows urban bicycle routes and other recreational amenities, including trailheads, parks, campgrounds, fishing holes, golf courses, and recreation centers. Our map system enables people to visualize, and to select, their trail experience before embarking on a trail-related adventure.

The BATCO map is useful to land managers because it shows for the first time where the existing trails are, as well as future opportunities for well-planned trail connections. Additional benefits include information about each agency's trail regulations and contact persons, suggestions for trail etiquette and safety, material about various outdoor and environmental organizations, and user-friendly sketches, photographs, and text pertaining to appreciating and protecting Boulder County's diverse natural resources. The map is a useful educational tool, not only for recreational users but in the schools as well.

Finally, here's the really exciting part of our project: BATCO has committed to investing the net proceeds from map sales directly to local trail projects— planning, construction, and maintenance. We will now also be able to approach the local business community with an invitation for them to join us in sponsoring and creating a healthy trail community. We will literally put our money where our mouths are, in an effort to improve the public lands we all know and love.

And, while we haven't yet succeeded entirely in changing the paradigm, BATCO's expertise is finally being sought after in trail planning, and some new trails are being built, at last!

The BATCO map is leaping off the shelf at many map retail outlets as well as government agency offices (go to the BATCO website, http://bcn.boulder.co.us/batco for a complete listing of map retailers). To order a copy by mail, please send a check for $9.95 each plus $1.50 S&H per order for a folded map or $3.50 for a rolled map, made out to BATCO, c/o Suzanne Webel, 5735 Prospect Rd, Longmont, CO 80503.

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