The trail will be primarily based off the existing Colorado Field Ornithologists’ Colorado County Birding website, but geared more for the average tourist than its predecessor, said bird expert Andrew Spencer, an independent contractor working with the CDW to develop its Birding Trail.
According to Spencer, Telluride was selected for its ability to provide services to a number of nearby sites of interest.
“There’s a colony of Black Swift that only nest behind tall waterfalls,” said Spencer referring to Bridal Veil Falls, which will be included on the trail. Additionally, there is a colony of Purple Martin located along Highway 145 on the way to Rico, he said.
After noting a gap in existing Colorado birding information, in 2001, Spencer and colleague Nathan Pieplow began privately compiling what ultimately became the CFO’s Colorado County Birding website. Once they got going, they realized they lacked the technical web expertise to host the site themselves, so they approached the CFO about including the new information on their website.
When the CDW decided to create the Colorado Birding Trail in 2005, Spencer and Pieplow were obvious resources. According CDW Watchable Wildlife Coordinator Jennifer Kleffner, the agency contracted the two men to build upon their original work,
A birding trail is a suggested driving route with stops at special places where birds are most likely to be seen. Each stop describes the habitat, which birds are there in the various seasons, where to look, and how to get from a main road to the birding location through means such as maps, interpretative kiosks and websites. Some trails include water routes suitable for canoeing or kayaking, while others may include biking or walking routes. Trails have already been established for the Rocky Mountains and Eastern Plains regions of Colorado
Spencer predicts that Telluride will be part of the tentatively-named Lizard Head Loop, which could travel from Dolores over Lizard Head Pass to Telluride and then on to Placerville and the Miramonte Reservoir before returning to Dolores.
Sites are considered for inclusion on the trail based on several criteria including the quality of wildlife viewing, uniqueness of the habitat and/or wildlife species found there, and whether the site contains additional historic or cultural attractions.
Birding trails have the potential to generate significant tourism dollars. According to the CDW, 46 million people in America described themselves as interested in bird watching in 2001, and that number is increasing. Additionally, 39 states now have birding trails.
The economic potential of wildlife viewing also provides financial incentives for landowners and communities to protect or improve habitat conditions, which can be an important source of revenue. Total wildlife viewers (including birders) injected an estimated $1.4 billion into the state economy in 2006 alone, according to CDW figures.
The recent Supreme Court ruling giving Telluride the right to condemn the Valley Floor for open space could likely create another nearby birding attraction.
Describing the generally flat terrain, Roberta Peterson, chair of the Open Space Commission and an avid birder, said, “You can take kids or the elderly there and walk about 200 feet and be right next to wetlands.”
Spencer anticipated that he or Pieplow would visit the Valley Floor to assess its birding potential within the coming weeks. “I bet it’s a pretty good site,” he said.
According to Kleffner, the Southwest Colorado Birding Trail website is expected to be up and running by June 2009. For more information visit http://www.coloradobirdingtrail.com.