Castle Creek Trail near Aspen finally reality after 14 years, nearly $4 million

People utilize a half-mile trail in the Castle Creek Valley in Aspen on Thursday, July 2, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

After 14 years, a lengthy lawsuit by area residents and nearly $4 million in construction costs, a half-mile trail to two school campuses in the Castle Creek Valley was finally completed this week.

The Castle Creek Trail now runs from the intersection of Castle Creek Road and the Marolt Trail to the campus of Aspen Country Day School and the Aspen Music Festival and School. Previously, students and parents who wanted to ride or walk to school were forced to take their lives into their own hands when they took the narrow, winding Castle Creek Road to school.

“It is just such a wonderful improvement,” said Carolyn Hines, communications director at Aspen Country Day School. “We just can’t wait for students to be able to walk and ride to school safely.

“It is so long overdue.”

Officials with Aspen Country Day showed a harrowing video to Pitkin County Commissioners in October 2016 depicting large trucks and car traffic having to haphazardly make their way around bicyclists and pedestrians on the road. In the video, students spoke of cars that nearly hit their arms and the general lack of safety for bikes and pedestrians on the road.

Hines said Aspen Country Day embraces the outdoors and always wanted students to see bicycles as transportation and to be able to ride them to school.

“But we never could recommend it in good conscience,” she said.

Planning for the trail began in 2006. The trail, then set to cost $1.9 million, was to be constructed in 2007 until 13 Castle Creek neighbors filed a lawsuit that stopped the process.

The lawsuit settlement took several years, and planning didn’t begin again until 2017. Then the design process took longer than expected when the road base under the shoulder on one side was found to be lacking, and rockfall mitigation and construction of retaining walls on the west side of the road took longer and was more expensive than expected.

That pushed the final cost of the trail to just under $4 million, which was paid for by Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails program, Pitkin County, the city of Aspen and the Music School.

Construction finally began in August, and crews were able to work up until mid-December and get a good portion of the work done thanks to cooperative weather, said Gary Tennnenbaum, Open Space and Trails program director. Work began again April 24 and finally concluded June 24, he said.

“I’m very excited that we’re done,” Tennenbaum said. “(The trail’s) gonna be huge this fall. It’s gonna be a big difference.”

For one thing, the road is wider now, he said. Each traffic lane is 10 feet wide, with a four-foot bike lane on the Castle Creek side of the road next to a six-foot shared use trail for bikes and pedestrians. The road also features a two-foot shoulder on each side.

All of that makes it much safer, not only for students but for the exploding number of road bikers who use Castle Creek Road, as well as cars, which are now better protected from rockfall, Tennenbaum said.

“We needed to improve the safety of the road width there,” he said. “It’s a huge safety improvement.”

Commissioners also reduced the speed limit in the area to 25 mph, and Clapper said they want to make sure the new speed limit for cars and bikes is enforced in the area.

Clapper acknowledged Thursday that the trail was costly, but said the final result is an improvement over the original design that was halted by the neighbors’ lawsuit.

“I think the end result is better with the neighbors’ input,” she said. “We realized if we were going to do it, we were going to do it right. It’s now safer and more usable and I think it’s worth it.”

Hines said many parents don’t yet know about the completed trail, which she hopes students get to use if and when classes at the campus resume in the fall.

“I think they’re going to be thrilled,” she said.


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