20-foot-wide ‘trail’ goes down the wrong path
July 20, 2006
Something is amiss when an 8-foot trail is “improved” to the width of a two-lane road, as is happening with the Rio Grande Trail between the Aspen post office and Cemetery Lane. Let’s be real: A trail that wide really isn’t a trail anymore.The reconstruction of the Rio Grande Trail was, at its core, a good idea borne of good intentions. But somewhere along the line, good intentions overwhelmed common sense. And now Aspen’s most popular trail is being reinvented as a super-trail.It reminds us of the intimate “fire hearths” that were to be placed in downtown Aspen as gathering spots for locals and tourists to warm their hands on winter nights. But instead of a modest, campfire-like space across the street from Paradise Bakery, Aspenites got an oversized metallic structure that would have been more at home in Disney’s Tomorrowland.The old Rio Grande Trail was a mere 8 feet wide and was admittedly collision-prone. So city and county officials decided to widen the trail, for safety reasons, to 10 feet. Good decision.And a one-foot shoulder. OK, sounds reasonable.But hold on – the planners weren’t done. They decided to add another 4 to 6 feet of unpaved right of way for runners, and yet another 4-foot-wide unpaved portion for a cross-country skiing track during winter. Apparently, plans are in the works to plow the paved portion of the super-trail come winter, so the additional 4 feet were deemed necessary to keep everyone (and his or her mother) happy.Could this be a case of trying too hard to please everyone?If it weren’t for the old bridges that cross the Roaring Fork and Hunter Creek, commuters could drive the new super-trail to beat the traffic on Highway 82. (For the record, the trail will be 20 feet wide, while McLain Flats Road is 24 feet wide for most of its length.)The city’s trail coordinator told The Aspen Times this week that “I don’t think the feel of the trail will change dramatically.” But it already has. The Rio Grande Trail has become one more victim of the “deluxe-ification” of Aspen, the same effect that gave us a Tomorrowland fire hearth and a hulking viaduct of a pedestrian trail down Cemetery Lane.Let’s hope that the deluxe-ification of the Rio Grande stops at Henry Stein Park.