Met Rec making tracks in outdoor recreation

Finding recreation opportunities in the Gunnison Valley is a no-brainer, given the area’s mountains, wildflower meadows, campgrounds, rivers and parks. But recreational amenities don’t maintain themselves, so it takes tax funds and public-private partnerships to keep recreation areas in peak condition. This is one of the key functions of the Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District, or Met Rec.

Originally established in 1978 as a special district to help finance television infrastructure, Met Rec expanded its mission in 2001 to include park and recreation services covering almost all of Gunnison County and a portion of Saguache County. Today, Met Rec supports recreation needs through multiple programs, including its community collaboration grant program.

The grant program grew out of Met Rec’s 2020 strategic planning process, which included a recreation needs assessment.

One of the beneficiaries of the grant program is among the region’s most popular recreation areas: Town Ranch, a 175-acre property acquired by Crested Butte in 1996. Used year-round, Town Ranch is especially attractive in winter, when thousands of recreationists visit the Town Ranch Loop, a free, groomed Nordic trail open to skiing, snowshoeing, fat-tire biking, walking, and dogs. Many residents use the loop to avoid the expense of a season pass, required by most trails.

Crested Butte Nordic maintains the Town Ranch Loop at a cost of about $12,000 annually, funded by a grant from Met Rec. The funding allows Crested Butte Nordic to maintain the loop and trailhead, including snowcat grooming, signage upkeep, trash disposal and stocking and emptying the dog-waste station.

Crested Butte Nordic estimates that the loop hosts at least 36 users per day for a 140+ day winter season, enabling over 5,000 skier-days. It has become a way to offset the isolation brought on by cold, snowy days. In Crested Butte Nordic’s grant application, a trail user is quoted to say, “Community is tough to foster in the winter months. For our family, CB Nordic has become a connection point to socialize with other families and friends.”

Access to free Nordic trails aligns with Met Rec’s strategic goals to increase access to recreation opportunities and support outdoor recreation. For thousands of winter users, Met Rec’s funding of the Town Ranch Loop is proof that the special district is on the right track.