Garfield County commissioners plan $200,000 for Red Hill project

Ryan Summerlin
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Heidi Horner and her dog Nigel take an early afternoon hike near the Red Hill Recreation Area. Land visible in the background was recently acquired by the Aspen Valley Land Trust and the town of Carbondale with hopes of creating a new trail connection and avoiding pedestrian use of the road altogether.
Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Though it will depend on the money being available next year, Garfield County commissioners have committed to contribute $200,000 for a property acquisition at the base of Red Hill north of Carbondale.

That money would come from the county’s conservation trust fund, and so it will be contingent on that money still being funded by the state in 2019, commissioners said at their Monday meeting.

Carbondale and the Aspen Valley Land Trust requested that the county pitch in to the project, after AVLT was able to close on the property in December for significantly less than the historical asking price. After obtaining a bridge loan, AVLT bought the long sought 25-acre property for $825,000.

The project aims to improve access to the Red Hill trail system, which currently is only accessible by walking or cycling up Garfield County Road 107, causing some safety concerns.

The end goal will be for AVLT to transfer the newly acquired land to Carbondale, along with a fund for improvements and to maintain it.

A unique opportunity came about his summer, and AVLT was able to put the property under contract and ultimately close on it in December, said Carbondale Town Manager Jay Harrington, who appeared before the commissioners.

Part of the end goal would be to design a new trail parallel to the county road, and if possible create a new, separate parking area for recreation users on that property. That would separate the car pool traffic from the recreation traffic at the base of Red Hill on land that’s held by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Harrington said the town is now working on some early engineering and geo-technical analysis. The separate parking will be the longer-term part of the project, requiring some coordination with the county and CDOT, he said.

The short-term piece of the project is getting town ownership of the property.

“We hope to approve a contract with AVLT at the end of this month, which would trigger the town’s ownership upon the fundraising being completed,” said Harrington. That would also include a fund for the town to maintain the property for the next 10 to 15 years, and also to pay for those improvements.

“I realize that you can’t make a multi-year financial commitment, so it would have to be a tentative commitment at this point,” Harrington said to commissioners.

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said this would be a placeholder similar to what commissioners granted for a Battlement Mesa trail project last week. Jankovsky said he had encouraged Carbondale to request those 2019 dollars from the county’s conservation trust fund, as the project would be a big benefit to the citizens of the town and county.

The commissioners, too, have received complaints from residents on Garfield County Road 107 about pedestrian and traffic safety, he said. The county had also postponed a chip and seal project on that road in anticipation of the Red Hill project, which is planned to include a realignment for the bottom section of County Road 107 for a better entrance to Colorado 82.

“I will push to make sure this gets into the budget for 2019,” said Jankovsky.

That $200,000 will be contingent of the state continuing to fund the conservation trust funds, but Jankovsky was confident that “people will still keep playing the lottery and the funds will keep flowing.”

“This is something there has a been a long need for,” Davis Farrar, president of the Red Hill Council that provides oversight for the trail system, said on Monday. “Hopefully, we’ll get folks off the road and out of the way of the vehicles. … It gives them a good alternative for getting up to the trail system.”

“We appreciate [the commissioners’] support, and hopefully it will all work out for 2019,” Harrington later said.