First official riders make tracks up the Crystal |

First official riders make tracks up the Crystal

Kelley Cox/Post IndependentA crowd of cycling enthusiasts gathered in Carbondale to celebrate the opening of the first phase, five-mile section, of the new Crystal Valley Trail on Friday afternoon.

CARBONDALE – The ribbon was only just being cut to mark the official opening of the first phase of the new Crystal Valley Trail Friday afternoon when Jay Jahani was already dreaming of a bike ride to Crested Butte.

“I’m so happy to be here for the opening today, it’s one of my dreams,” said Jahani, of Glenwood Springs, who was one of about 80 people who turned out to celebrate the official opening of the new 5.2-mile section of paved trail from Carbondale to the BRB Campground.

“But I’m really looking forward to having it continue all the way over Kebler Pass some day,” he said.

Ellen Sassano of Carbondale agreed.

“This is great, but more than that I can’t wait until it goes over to Crested Butte,” she said.

That’s the goal in an ambitious plan to eventually build a 70-mile trail linking Carbondale to Crested Butte along part of the larger 205-mile West Elks Scenic Byway. Future phases will depend on securing easements, as well as funding to continue the trail along Highway 133 over McClure Pass, then to and over the Kebler Pass road.

Until then, those who brought their bicycles to the Friday grand opening celebration – which was the vast majority – were content to pedal the relative short distance up and back on the new trail section.

“I have to say I did wait, and respected the trail closure until today,” Pitkin County Trails and Open Space Director Dale Will said. “I know others of you out there couldn’t wait.”

Although the trail has been paved for the most part since early July, it has remained closed while work was being finished. Still, it has already proven to be a popular destination for riders and runners alike.

“As you walk or bike up the trail, it is a great place to enjoy the sounds of the Crystal River, the open pastures and Mount Sopris,” Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman said.

The new trail was the result of a collaboration between local and state government entities, including Pitkin the Garfield counties, the town of Carbondale, the Colorado Historic and Scenic Byways Commission, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Aspen Skiing Company Environment Foundation.

“We always talk about regional collaboration to accomplish things, and this trail is a really good example of that,” Carbondale Mayor Stacey Patch Bernot said.

She noted that the town was instrumental in obtaining a federal Safe Routes to Schools grant to help complete the town portion of the trail, which also was recently completed.

“It can be difficult for our kids to get to school safely without riding in a car, and this will make it much safer for them to ride their bike or walk,” Bernot said.

Beyond town limits, it also provides a safe alternative for bicyclists to go on longer rides without sharing the highway with motor vehicle traffic, Scenic Byways Commission member Dorothea Farris of Carbondale said.

“Trails are needed to connect neighborhoods and to connect our communities to one another,” she said. “This trail provides a safe and attractive alternative for those who wish to get off the highway.”

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