East of Aspen Trail ready for final leg | AspenTimes.com

East of Aspen Trail ready for final leg

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

ASPEN – The final piece of a trail that has been in the works for at least two decades will be constructed east of Aspen this year.

The East of Aspen Trail, an alternative to Highway 82 for bicyclists, joggers, dog walkers and people simply out for a stroll, finally will connect to something before the summer’s out.

Built in bits and pieces over the years, the trail has inched slowly eastward toward Difficult Campground, the largest Forest Service campground in the Aspen vicinity. It’s located about five miles southeast of town, near the base of Independence Pass.

Parts of the trail have long been features of the landscape. The hardpacked, gravel path skirts along the North Star Nature Preserve, a scenic expanse acquired by the county in 1978, and offers glimpses of the meandering Roaring Fork River at various points along the way.

Farther away from town, the trail was extended through about 900 feet of wetlands at a cost that approached $1 million. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails constructed the tricky stretch in late 2004 using a boardwalk that is held above ponds and wetlands by metal piers.

The boardwalk allowed extension of the trail to Wildwood Drive and Wildwood School.

Last summer, the city of Aspen tackled the missing link on the edge of town, constructing an 8-foot-wide, asphalt trail for three-quarters of a mile to connect the city’s sidewalk system to the East of Aspen Trail at Stillwater Drive, where the gravel surface begins on a stretch that parallels the Roaring Fork.

This year, Open Space and Trails will build the last piece, of less than a mile, from Wildwood Drive to the entrance to Difficult Campground. The estimated cost of the project, with the continuation of the gravel surface, is $120,000.

The path as it approaches Difficult will mostly hug the highway and require the clearing of some vegetation.

“The plan is to avoid as many of the trees as possible – we’re going to avoid the big ones,” said Gary Tennenbaum, open space land steward.

Tennenbaum expects use of the trail, already popular when it’s not covered with snow, to jump once it connects to the campground, offering a seamless walk or easy mountain-bike ride back and forth from Aspen without using Highway 82. The feature should be particularly attractive to families with children who aren’t ready to pedal on the highway.

“We have trail counts. … It’s amazing how much use it gets,” Tennenbaum said. “We get a ton of runners and a ton of bike use.”

The trail plan will be the focus of a presentation on Thursday at a meeting of the Open Space and Trails board of trustees. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the Aspen City Council’s chambers at City Hall.


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