Cool technology gives public opportunity to help design segment of Carbondale to Crested Butte trail

Designing a hiking and biking trail in the Crystal Valley faces challenges, like in this narrow corridor near Hayes Creek Falls.
Dale Will/courtesy photo |

Think you can design a trail in the Crystal River Valley better than the experts? Now you get the opportunity.

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails is using interactive technology to give an unprecedented opportunity to get into the nitty-gritty of a public works project. Interested members of the public will be able to dive into four areas — environmental-wildlife factors, engineering challenges, user experience and costs — to help design trail segments.

The proposed trail has been divided into 20 segments where the public can choose between two alternative routes after weighing the four factors. An existing paved trail runs about 8.5 miles south of Carbondale to BRB Campground. The current planning process focuses on the roughly 20-mile stretch from BRB to the summit of McClure Pass. A trail is contemplated to someday run between Carbondale and Crested Butte.

For the BRB to McClure Pass section, public comments are due by Oct. 2. Comments can be made overall or specifically on each of the 20 segments, according to Lindsey Utter, planning and outreach manager for the open space program.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important public input is to what we do,” Utter said.

Color coding helps readers determine if the factors such as cost or environmental impact are a low, medium or high concern for each segment.

The online tool provides a crystal-clear way to show the tradeoffs that come with decisions. For example, the cost of having the trail hug Highway 133 along a 1-mile stretch at Avalanche Creek would cost an estimated $8.16 million due to limited space and complex structural options. But splitting the trail off the highway corridor to save $3 million would affect elk winter range, bighorn migration areas and undisturbed habitat.

“If it was an easy decision we wouldn’t be here,” Utter said of the intense public planning effort.

Most of the 20 segments have two alternatives — one along the highway corridor and one off-highway.

“Depending on what the preferred alignment ends up being, there is a possibility the trail could cross over the river between different alternative segments; potential bridge locations have been evaluated as part of the data collection,” the open space website says.

The open space staff will examine public comments as they come in and incorporate them into a draft plan that will be presented to the open space and trails board of directors and Carbondale Town Council in a joint meeting Oct. 17 in Carbondale.

After that, the draft will be opened to additional public comment. Final adoption by the Pitkin County commissioners and open space board is slated for mid-December. The trail will use national forest lands so it must undergo federal National Environmental Policy Act review in 2018.

Once a plan is approved, the trail will be built in phases due to the expense.

To help design the trail, go to