ASPEN - Aspen and Pitkin County open space officials are urging county commissioners to give construction of the Hunter Creek Trail extension a green light.
A city parks crew is on standby to build the new trail segment, pending a decision expected Tuesday when commissioners meet for a work session and a follow-up discussion after a visit to the trail alignment this week. The project had been given the go-ahead, but commissioners then decided they'd like a firsthand look before it proceeds.
Construction time is short, given the need to install a bridge over Hunter Creek as part of the project, according to the city.
At issue is a trail crossing near the base of Red Mountain Road, which sees close to 3,000 vehicle trips per day, according to the county. A handful of area residents have asked commissioners to either change the project's design or scrap it altogether, contending that an at-grade crossing over the road will be dangerous.
Responding to one suggestion from an observer at the site visit - enforce the 25 mph speed limit on the road - Dale Will, county Open Space and Trails director, noted that the city of Denver now uses digital cameras to ticket speeders on Speer Boulevard.
Will doesn't recommend that step, but a memo to commissioners indicates that a speed bump could help slow downhill motorists in advance of the trail crossing. One is already in place on the downhill approach of Red Mountain Road to a nearby crosswalk at Gibson Avenue, according to Will.
"It would seem unfortunate that we would forgo a pedestrian connection to enable continuing violation of an existing speed limit," Will wrote in his memo.
In addition, open space officials said devices or structures could be placed on the trail at its intersection with the road that force bicyclists to come to a complete stop, or even dismount. Already, the design will make it difficult for most bicyclists to shoot across the road without slowing or stopping, according to open space officials.
The existing plan for the trail crossing calls for a 2-inch raised trail platform of a different color from the road pavement, along with flashing lights that trail users can activate to warn motorists of people in the crossing. The trail is to climb sharply up to the road from both approaches and then turn toward the pavement, and bollards would be placed on the trail for an added measure of safety, along with stop signs directed at trail users.
A suggestion from one resident - that the trail be routed beneath Red Mountain Road - would be a costly alternative, according to the memo. The construction of a box culvert would cost at least $1 million; rebuilding the road bridge over Hunter Creek to accommodate a trail underpass would be even more expensive and mean construction impacts for motorists, the memo notes. The budget for the project as proposed is about $250,000.
Another resident suggested that the trail extension, which would link the existing terminus of the Hunter Creek Trail in an east-side Aspen neighborhood to the popular Rio Grande Trail, be closed to bikes, since the lower Hunter Creek Trail isn't conducive to mountain biking. The city parks staff, however, has suggested that most of the bike use will come from nearby residents using the route to get to town, rather than up into the Hunter Creek Valley.
Mike Pritchard, president of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, has written a letter urging that the 0.3-mile trail project go forward. It's difficult even for locals who know how to find the existing trailhead, off Lone Pine Road, to give directions to others, he noted.
The extended trail has been touted as an easy way for locals and visitors to hike into the scenic Hunter Creek Valley, which is often referred to as Aspen's backyard.
"Whenever I'm asked, 'How do I get to the Hunter Creek Trail?' I'm flat-footed, even putting it into words," Will said this week.
And, while the route into Hunter Creek is too steep and rocky to serve as a viable bike route, there is a growing potential for a separate bike connection involving other trails in the vicinity, according to Pritchard. Currently, mountain bikers generally enter the valley via Smuggler Mountain or a trailhead farther up Red Mountain.
Tuesday's trail discussion is scheduled for 11:15 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room in the Plaza One building.