Castle Creek trail back on the radar
June 23, 2012
ASPEN – A paved trail alongside Castle Creek Road between the edge of town and the Aspen Music Festival and School campus might move back onto the front burner after a five-year delay.
Last month, during a joint meeting of the Aspen and Pitkin County open space boards, staffers received a thumbs-up to begin planning work for a trail connecting the existing bike-trail system to the music campus. The 3,000-foot trail along Castle Creek Road would provide a paved route from Marolt Ranch, which provides housing for music students during the summertime music festival, to the school campus to the south.
Construction crews were poised to start work on a planned $1.9 million project back in 2007 when 13 neighbors filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to halt the work. The group prevailed, obtaining a temporary injunction and then a standing injunction, which the county unsuccessfully appealed.
Subsequently, one landowner filed a new lawsuit that sought to either block the trail construction or force the county to seek permits for the work and conduct public hearings on the project. In October 2010, a judge ruled against the county, ordering it to follow the procedures necessary to obtain right-of-way permits and then actually obtain the permits before proceeding.
The ruling gave the county an avenue to move forward with the trail, but the county appealed the ruling, in essence arguing that the county’s old Asset Management Plan, which required government agencies to acquire permits before doing work in county rights of way, didn’t apply to the county itself. The Asset Management Plan has since been amended. The case remains in the Court of Appeals. Still in limbo as a result of the appeal is a $570,000 bond that was put up by the landowners who obtained the injunction. The bond was to protect the county against losses it would incur if the project did not go forward as scheduled in 2007.
The city and county, which were to split the cost of the trail project back in 2007, still don’t have access to the bond money, but there is nothing else to stop the governments from moving forward again with the trail, according to Chris Seldin, assistant county attorney.
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“There is no injunction right now prohibiting construction of the project,” he said.
When neighbors were fighting the trail plan, their objections included the cutting of trees and vegetation along the roadside, the expense of the project given the number of people who would potentially use the route, and the lack of public review involved in the process that brought the project forward.
Now, the project will be “rescoped,” according to Brian Flynn, city open space and special projects manager.
“Honestly, we have not considered this project in a long time,” he said.
Planners will look anew at the constraints within the narrow road corridor and come up with a new cost estimate for a trail, he said. The stretch between Marolt and the music school is winding, with a drop-off in many areas to the east of the road. There is little in the way of shoulders on either side of the pavement. In 2007, the plan was for a grade-separated trail that would have been placed off the east edge of the roadway, below the level of the pavement, which resulted in the $1.9 million price tag.
Open space and trails priorities are considered by the city Open Space and Trails Board early each year. In January or February, the board would decide where a Castle Creek trail fits among its coming priorities, Flynn said.
“It’s definitely not a 2012 project. It will be interesting to see if it becomes a 2013 project,” he said.
More than five years ago, some proponents of the trail argued that having music students walking along the edge of Castle Creek Road was a dangerous practice. Students can also bike between the school campus and town, and bus service to the campus runs regularly.
In the wintertime, the school campus houses Aspen Country Day School, but this fall, Country Day will relocate to Aspen Meadows to accommodate construction at the music school, where redevelopment of the campus has begun.
The Aspen Music Festival and School, meanwhile, will launch its season on Thursday. Students are already on the move between town, Marolt and the school campus.