Another chapter unfolding in Crystal Valley’s fascinating transit history |

Another chapter unfolding in Crystal Valley’s fascinating transit history

This photo was taken around 1899 just upstream from the north Redstone Bridge. The railroad and wagon road used the old Ute Trail path on the east side of the Crystal River. On the left side, the Elk Mountain Railroad grade is seen along what became Highway 133.
Denver Public Library, Western Genealogical Archive |

Planning and debate over a proposed trail in the Crystal Valley will ramp up in two weeks and indications are that interest will be immense.

A few hundred people attended a public meeting Thursday night in Carbondale to learn about the history of transit through the stunning Crystal Valley — from the establishment of a trail network by the Ute Indians to liberties taken by the state of Colorado to build Highway 133.

Dale Will, director of special projects and acquisitions for Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, said Friday the turnout at Thursday’s presentation was much larger than expected.

“I think people are fascinated by history,” he said. “It was refreshing to me to see faces in the room that aren’t following the Crystal Trail.”

Kenny Frost, an elder and Sun Dance chief with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe in Colorado, captivated the audience with an explanation of how the Ute Trail network in Colorado was “sort of like the super highways of today.”

Evidence shows that the area near Penny Hot Springs, now known as Filoha Meadows, was a Ute camp.

“This area was once the heart of Ute country,” Frost said.

One band of Utes fled up the Crystal Valley, over what became Schofield Pass and into the current Crested Butte area after the Meeker Massacre, an attack on an Indian agency in September 1879, he said. The band eventually surrendered at the urging of Chief Ouray.

Dale Will, director of special projects and acquisitions for Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, said the Ute Trail along the Crystal River was well-documented by the Hayden survey party in 1873. Ferdinand Hayden led expeditions throughout the West in the 1870s and had permission to survey in the Ute Reservation that included the Crystal Valley, Will said. The expedition’s notes and maps indicate the Ute Trail jumped back and forth across what was then Rock Creek, now the Crystal River.

After the Ute were booted out, Will’s slideshow showed the establishment of wagon roads and a railroad in the Crystal Valley. They often followed the Ute Trail’s route.

Will said he is personally fascinated that the Crystal Valley has been the corridor used for everything from an escape route for Utes to the freight route in 1926 for marble destined for use for the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Washington, D.C.

There have already been a handful of meetings about the proposed pedestrian route though the valley.

Debate has unfolded, if not battle lines drawn, over whether the alignment should be on the east side of the river or kept closer to the highway alignment, generally on the west side.

The time has arrived to delve into the options.

The open space program will host open houses where loads of details will be shared Sept. 6 at the Redstone Inn and Sept. 7 at the Carbondale Fire House. Both public meetings will take place from 5 to 7:30 p.m. An online survey with opportunity for public comment will open after the presentations and continue through Oct. 2.

The 8.5-mile, first phase of the trail from Carbondale to BRB Cabins and Campground was completed in 2010. Now, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails is planning 20 miles to the top of McClure Pass. More information on the proposal can be found at ​

Other parties are pursuing a trail between McClure Pass and Crested Butte.

Will said the open houses will be packed with information on the options. People will be able to see how adjustments in the alignment, whether for wildlife habitat or ambience of trail, affect the cost.

“We’ve gone over the corridor foot by foot,” he said. “I’m kind of excited to see how that goes.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User