During Town Council’s first regular meeting of the month July 6, Snowmass elected officials discussed village trail use and maintenance, gave town staff direction on two connectivity improvement projects and approved the Elected Officials Transportation Committee strategic plan in preparation for the next EOTC meeting. Here’s the recap:
SNOWMASS TRAILS DISCUSSION
Town Council talked through a handful of soft surface trail topics and issues related to usage and maintenance with town Parks, Recreation and Trails Department staff.
The discussion topics included:
• Changing the current Nature Trail bike restriction, which has been in place for more than 20 years and allows the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies to lead its nature walks undisturbed. The current restriction is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., but since ACES is shifting to only doing one hike on the Nature Trail from 10 a.m. to noon, that’s the new compromised restriction time frame the town and ACES has agreed to pursue, town staff said July 6.
• Creating a more comprehensive trail etiquette and politeness plan by working with Snowmass Tourism, Snowmass police and parks and trails staff
• Trail maintenance on the South Rim and Tom Blake Equestrian/Hiking trails
• Looking into a trail connection between the South Rim trail and the new soft surface trail Snowmass Center developers are required to create if they receive final approval of their center redevelopment project.
Although this was just a discussion and no formal decisions were made, Town Council did express consensus with changing the Nature Trail bike restriction hours, giving staff direction to move forward with the change and to create new, better signage ensuring hikers and bikers are well aware of the restriction.
However, council members expressed some concern with negative mountain biker versus hiker interactions, especially with more novice bikers who may not know proper etiquette and increased trail use overall.
That’s partially why the town is looking to create a more comprehensive trail etiquette and politeness plan, a three-department approach which could utilize more signage, bike bells and handing out trail information cards with “do’s and don’ts,” according to Town Manager Clint Kinney.
“We do everything we can to educate, educate, educate and we’re going to continue that because we know that education is absolutely important,” Kinney said.
“Good etiquette remains our top priority. We know that it’s our biggest issue and we receive lots and lots of feedback on it, so we think it’s something that’s important for us to maintain and pay attention to.”
Council members expressed general support with more trail education initiatives being rolled out this summer. They also discussed the several comments and complaints made to town staff and Town Council about the recent South Rim Trail maintenance, which included sentiments like the town was creating a “superhighway” and ruining the trail, and rumors that it was becoming a “mountain biking flow” trail only. People also expressed concerns with the more bare, widened look to the trail, and the appearance of bike jumps.
Instead, Andy Worline, director of the town’s parks, recreation and trails department, and Starr Jamison, parks and trails manager, explained that the professional trail maintenance conducted with machinery that many people saw was much needed to address drainage issues and to re-establish trail edges. This maintenance will ensure that the South Rim’s integrity is sustained for years to come, despite increased use, Jamison and Worline explained. The town has no intention of making the trail one-way or mountain bike only, staff said, and only utilized the professional trail company and its machinery to get the maintenance completed quicker.
Right now, roughly 200 people are using the South Rim Trail each day and the parks and trails department found that 7,000 people used the trail each month in May and June, Jamison said, which is double the use it saw last year.
“It’s a year-round trail and most of our trails are not year-round. Snow gets in there and sits in it and people get out there and ride too early, so there’s damage that happens,” Jamison explained. “This is a very old trail so we have to keep it maintained. It will look like it has in the past by next year.”
Staff said similar improvements with the same trail machinery are being made on the Tom Blake Equestrian/Hiking Trail, which will help make it a more accessible and easier to maintain alternative to the Tom Blake Trail for hikers, trail runners and equestrians.
Council and town staff agreed that this trail maintenance was much needed, but that in the future it may be best to be more transparent at town trailheads about any maintenance taking place there by utilizing physical signage versus just social media and web notices.
Council also gave staff direction to move forward with looking into a potential connection between the South Rim trail and the proposed Snowmass Center trail.
CONNECTIVITY PLAN PROJECTS
Outside of discussing town trails, Town Council also gave staff direction to move forward with two projects that align with the town’s connectivity plan: putting a crosswalk and flashing beacons on the eastside where Fairway Drive meets Owl Creek Road, and putting flashing beacons at the trail crossing near the Little Red School House across Owl Creek Road (there is already a crosswalk there).
As explained by Anne Martens, public works director, the projects would improve pedestrian safety and connectivity at both crossings, which were discussed as problem areas by council members at its April 19 work session.
Martens said the rapid flash beacons would be solar powered and that both projects would cost around $25,000 total, which can be covered by what’s already appropriated in this year’s Road Fund Improvements Budget.
However, Town Council members expressed concern with the placement of the rapid flash beacon near the trail crossing by the Little Red School House versus near the bus stop. They said they want to be sure the beacon placement really addresses the comments and complaints from locals utilizing that area.
“My recommendation tonight is to get authorization to put in the rapid flash beacons, … and we can work through those fine details of where the best location of the intersection is by Gamble and Little Red School House,” Martens said, noting the town will work with area homeowners and locals to determine the best location.
After some discussion, Town Council expressed consensus with ensuring the town works with locals on where the flash beacons are placed and gave Martens direction to move forward with the projects.
COUNCIL APPROVES EOTC STRATEGIC PLAN
Snowmass Town Council approved the proposed Elected Officials Transportation Committee strategic plan as is during its “EOTC prep meeting” on July 6, the first of the three bodies of elected officials part of the committee to do so.
According to David Pesnichak, EOTC transportation administrator, because Snowmass Village, Aspen and Pitkin County elected officials seemed to express a “high level of agreement” on the proposed strategic plan at each of their prep meetings in March, he felt it would be more efficient and effective to ask each governing body to approve the plan at their respective July prep meetings (which take place during regular council or board meetings) instead of at the July 16 EOTC meeting.
The EOTC had to cancel its planned March 19 meeting due to the COVID-19 outbreak and is set to begin reviewing the Comprehensive Valley Transportation Plan on July 16. Pesnichak said if all governing bodies can approve the EOTC strategic plan during their prep meetings, it would leave more time to begin reviewing the comprehensive plan.
“We’re trying to move things along so we can get as much done in this meeting and then in the meeting coming up on July 16,” Pesnichak said.
After little discussion on whether to include “parking” into both the EOTC mission and vision statements, Town Council unanimously voted to approve the strategic plan as is.
Approving this plan is the first step to updating the EOTC’s guiding documents, which have not been updated since 1993, according to town documents. The plan is intended to be a high-level guiding document that helps inform and direct EOTC decision-making.
If both Aspen City Council and the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners approve the strategic plan as is, too, the EOTC will focus most of its July 16 meeting on the review of the valley transportation plan, which will use the strategic plan to help identify future policy level expenditure priorities, town documents say.
The EOTC will meet in the Snowmass Town Hall council chambers for its July 16 meeting at 4 p.m.