Trail Mix is an unusual organization. The five-member trail crew is responsible for many miles of trails in the county and is affiliated with the county, but they are under the financial umbrella of the Canyonlands Natural History Association. Under a new agreement, that could change. Trail Mix could become an official part of the county.
“Trail Mix has built over 150 miles of non-motorized trails over the last decade. The current focus is to maintain and improve this trail network and to educate users about responsible recreation and ‘leave no trace’ practices,” said Maddie Logowitz, program director for Trail Mix to The Times-Independent. Now, Grand County Community and Economic Development Director Zacharia Levine is asking that Trail Mix become part of his department.
“This is the product of many conversations to determine the future of Trail Mix employees,” Levine said at a Sept. 18 meeting of the Grand County Council. “We received word that Canyonlands Natural History Association, which is the entity that served as a fiscal agent for Trail Mix employees, was no longer going to provide payroll services and the fiscal agency services to Trail Mix after this calendar year.” Levine also said that his office has a particular interest in the county’s trail system, which provides both economic and quality-of-life benefits to county residents. “Community and economic development being the charge of our office, we are very aware of the contributions that Trail Mix has made to our community. I would say that they have been one of the most important economic drivers in our community. The trail network brings in millions of dollars in sales tax, and many of the visitors that we receive here and host here are coming because of the trail network that Trail Mix is largely responsible for. Trail Mix also greatly improves the quality of life for our residents and the public health outcomes that we have in our community and aspire to reach in our community,” Levine said.
The move would entail the creation of two new full-time positions and two categories of part-time positions in the Community and Economic Development Department, Levine said. He emphasized that an approval by the county would not be a final approval of Trail Mix’s incorporation into the county, but rather a green light for the Budget Advisory Board to consider Trail Mix’s potential budget within the county. “We realize that none of this would be fully authorized until the county council approves the 2019 budget but the budget advisory board needs to evaluate the proposed budget in the context of the full Grand County budget,” Levine said.
County Administrator Ruth Dillon mentioned that Trail Mix had that very day received a $14,000 grant for non-motorized trail user education and trail network improvements. “Other revenues are grant-based. They also do map sales of the area maps, especially of mountain biking, and the shops sell those. All that is donated back to Trail Mix ... The cost per mile to build is only $2,000 versus the $2,500 per mile industry average,” Dillon said.
“Is this going to cost the county taxpayers any additional funding?” asked Council Member Greg Halliday. “It will cost more money, for sure,” responded County Budget Officer Chris Baird. Halliday replied that he had “a hard time justifying using property tax money to pay for tourist vacations.”
Baird clarified that the money for Trail Mix would not come from property taxes. “The contribution that Grand County has provided Trail Mix over the years has always come from the restaurant and car rental tax. I don’t have any intention of funding Trail Mix with property tax money ... but certainly because tourism taxes offset general fund expense, it could have an effect on the way things come out,” said Baird.
“It’s really inevitable that once you get to the point where we’re at, where we have 150 miles of single track plus hiking trails, equestrian trails, the demands to maintain that system are going to be pretty significant. I think this was kind of inevitable, that it was going to end up costing this amount of money and bringing these employees up to full-time status ... that’s why the budget advisory board requested that the council approve this before they start budgeting for it,” Baird added. “There is a responsibility on behalf of the county not only in the general sense but in the technical sense. All the right-of-ways that we procured with the BLM, Grand County is the signatory on all of those. We’ve agreed to maintain them. Not CNHA, Grand County is the holder of those easements and we’ve agreed by signing onto the easements, to maintain those trails. So it is on us to do it. It’s not something that we can not do.”
“Trail Mix was formed by the county and all the assets that they have are technically owned by the county so it’s already under the umbrella, just sort of coming closer,” said Council Member Evan Clapper, in support of the incorporation of Trail Mix.
Council Member Jaylyn Hawks also supported the vote, saying that she was not only supportive of Trail Mix, but that she realized the vote was a non-binding action on the part of the council. “They’re very impressive with the amount of work they get done on the budget they bring in, and they’re very proactive about going after grants and successful at getting them. I feel absolutely comfortable voting tonight because, first of all, I’m supportive, but second is keeping our options open in terms of housing them. If we don’t vote on it, the budget advisory board can’t move forward in working through the numbers to make sure it’s doable.”
The vote passed five to zero. Council Member Curtis Wells was not physically present at the meeting and attempted to call in, but was unable to continue due to technical difficulties, so he was absent for the vote.