Carbondale river park gets boost

Jeremy Heiman
Carbondale correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
John Stroud/Carbondale Valley JournalWith new funding committed, plans are still in the works to develop the Gateway River Park along the Roaring Fork River beneath the Highway 133 bridge in Carbondale.

CARBONDALE ” Hopes for Carbondale’s proposed Gateway River Park got a boost last week, when the town was notified that it would receive a $200,000 Fishing is Fun grant from the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

The grant is specifically to be used toward the purchase of property on the north

side of the Roaring Fork River, just to the west of the Highway 133 bridge, owned by

Stanley and Valerie Koziel of Carbondale, if the town can successfully negotiate a

purchase price.

Plans for the park are moving forward. Carbondale has been working for several years toward acquisition of land for a park to provide river access for citizens and to beautify the north entrance to the town.

“We really don’t have anything developed for our citizens to use the river,” said Jeff Jackel, recreation director for the town of Carbondale.

“I think the Board of Trustees feel that developing a river park would really enhance the entrance to our community,” Jackel said. “It would give us a chance to clean up that area.”

The town owns a linear piece of property, totaling perhaps an acre, that runs from Cowen Drive down to the river behind the Days Inn and the Comfort Inn motels. Last year, the town purchased the Soderberg property, a 0.6-acre parcel to the north of the river and east of the Highway 133 bridge, from Mary Stecklein.

Officials envision a pedestrian bridge connecting the trail from Cowen Drive with the Soderberg parcel and perhaps connecting via the crosswalk across Highway 82 with Red Hill, Jackel said. The pedestrian bridge, perhaps making use of the old concrete highway bridge abutments still in place in the riverbottom, would require an arrangement with property owner Ernie Gianinetti, Jackel said.

Importantly, if the town is able to purchase the Koziel property, that would guarantee public access to the boat launching ramp there in perpetuity, as it would become part of the town park.

Also, if the Koziel property can be purchased, there’s a tentative plan for a trail under the Highway 133 bridge on the north side of the river, connecting that property with the rest of the park. The trail segment under the bridge would require a permit from the Colorado Department of Transportation, which owns the land directly under the bridge, Jackel said.

Jackel said there have also been informal discussions of restoring the upper part of the Koziel property to use as a public campground for RVs and tent campers, and provide showers for campers.

“We’d be putting it back into use as its original use,” Jackel said. Currently, the former campground is used for low-cost housing, with people living in RV trailers year-round, he noted.

If the town is able to purchase the Koziel property, the whole park would be about nine to 10 acres, as it is currently visualized, Jackel said. The Koziel property is surveyed at 7.56 acres of land, not including about one-half acre of underwater property extending to the mid-point of the river.

The park would include about 1,500 linear feet of river frontage, Jackel estimated.

Two access points are currently envisioned for the park, Jackel said. The first would be for foot traffic only, from Cowen Drive southeast of the Comfort Inn. Parking for that entrance has not been resolved, he said, though there would be a small amount of on-street parking.

“We have no parking areas down there,” Jackel said.

If the Koziel property is purchased, then vehicle access to the park would be allowed via the route used until recently to reach the boat ramp, turning off Highway 82 between Aspen Glen and the scenic overlook, on the old Satank bridge road.

Kayakers may be in, or out

The fate of a kayak park, or whitewater park, suggested for inclusion in the Gateway River Park is by no means certain, Jackel said. The proposed locations for kayak park water features were determined in a 2003 feasibility study, by consultants hired by the town.

One of those consultants, Davis Farrar, a former Carbondale town manager and long-time kayaking enthusiast, said they determined the ideal locale for the water features ” to be created by placing boulders in the river ” would be at two points about 120 feet apart, just to the east of the Highway 133 bridge.

But Division of Wildlife officials identified those locations as prime areas for fishing by wading anglers, Jackel said. With the DOW as a major source of funding for the Gateway River Park, he said, it’s important to respect the agency’s recommendations.

Farrar said he believes the drop structures necessary to create a wave for a kayaking feature would actually improve fish habitat by breaking up the homogeneous river flow and aerating the water. He said the DOW has actually signed off on similar structures in the Roaring Fork River when they were built for other purposes, such as irrigation diversion, riverbottom stabilization or fish habitat improvement.

Jackel agreed the kayak park features might actually enhance fish habitat. But the DOW would have to be convinced of that, he said.

“If you don’t have their buy-in, I don’t see it becoming a reality,” he said.

Farrar, though, doesn’t agree that fishing should be the primary use.

“Where I have a problem is when the fishing interests exclude other users,” Farrar said. “Kayak parks are responsible for generating millions of dollars for communities as well.”

But he said it’s not about the money, for him. It’s more a lifestyle issue. A kayak park would be a good thing for the town, and people would still be able to fish there, he said.

At this point, nothing else is being done toward creating a kayaking feature near Carbondale, Farrar said. Some efforts were made to examine the possibility of a slalom course near the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Crystal Rivers, he said, but some of the basic ingredients were lacking at that location.

A kayak park, to be successful, needs sufficient river gradient ” that is, the river bed must have a specific amount of decline. Also needed are parking, a place for viewing (preferably shady) and public access to put-in and take-out areas that are free of problems with trespassing on private property. Those factors would all be available at the Gateway River Park location, but not elsewhere near Carbondale, he said.

“I think Gateway River Park offers a huge opportunity to the town of Carbondale,” Farrar said. “I’d like to see all of the potential users get together on that.”

The new DOW grant will be added to $1 million in state lottery funds awarded in 2007 by Great Outdoors Colorado, plus $500,000 allocated for the Gateway River Park in the town’s 2007 budget and $100,000 from Garfield County, Jackel said.

The $500,000 budgeted in 2007 was set aside from a town sales and use tax intended specifically for recreation.

“That’s sitting there in the bank,” Jackel said.

However, the $1 million GOCO grant and the new $200,000 from DOW are not in the bank. Those funds, granted expressly for the purchase of the Koziel property, must be returned if negotiations fail and the purchase is not finalized.

“I would hope that we might be successful by January,” Jackel said. “But we may not.”

Jackel said he has written applications for several more grants to try to fund the park.

The town has been in negotiations with the Koziels for some time, and right now, little progress is being made.

“We’re kind of at a stalemate,” Jackel said. “There was an offer made by the town and it was rejected by the Koziels.”

The offer made by the town was considerably short of the amount asked by the Koziels, Jackel said. He said they were asking a lot more than a 2005 appraisal indicated the land was worth, but he acknowledged that property values have risen quickly in recent years. Negotiations will continue, he said.

“I hope we can purchase it,” Jackel said. “I think it would be great for the town.”