Garfield County mum on missing trail link | AspenTimes.com

Garfield County mum on missing trail link

Carbondale and Pitkin County are ready to take the first baby steps next year to build a biking and hiking trail to the top of McClure Pass. They’re hoping a third partner in the project, Garfield County, doesn’t stumble.The first phase of the long-anticipated trail will only be four miles long. Carbondale has committed funds to build a one-mile stretch out to Prince Creek Road. Pitkin County is ready to spend about $813,000 for a two-mile stretch from the county line to a piece of open space it owns at Thompson Creek, across Highway 133 from the Sustainable Settings Ranch.Between those two sections is a missing link within Garfield County’s boundary. Carbondale and Pitkin County officials want Garfield County to pitch in $390,000 for a one-mile stretch that includes a pricey pedestrian bridge over the Crystal River.They placed subtle pressure on the Garfield County commissioners to pledge the funds Monday but left the meeting with no commitment.Dale Will, director of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program, told Garfield County officials that it makes sense to invest in the trail now because costs are soaring.”Unfortunately, in the time we’ve spent designing this trail the construction costs have gone up primarily because of the price of oil,” he said.Will urged them to make some financial commitment, even if it wasn’t for the entire $390,000. “My goal is to optimize the outcome in ’06,” he said.Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt came closest to making a promise. “We have a healthy budget and we’re in good shape,” she said, adding she saw no reason why the county couldn’t contribute to the project. “There’s a huge and growing interest for trails in this county.”But board chairman John Martin said Garfield County couldn’t determine yet if it could donate to the Crystal Valley trail. The county’s top two priorities are to get its infrastructure in place, including trails, but also to avoid debt, he said.Martin said the Crystal Valley trail has to be considered and ranked among priorities during the regular budget process this fall.Will threw some financial incentives Garfield County’s way to try to sweeten the pot. He said Pitkin County Trails and Open Space is seeking a state trails grant for $200,000. If it is awarded to the project, the entire amount could be applied to the Garfield County stretch, Will said.In addition, a landowner in the Crystal Valley has pledged $50,000 to the trail effort for use wherever it is needed, according to Will. He said that could also be applied to Garfield County’s one-mile stretch.With those contributions, Garfield County could get by with a $140,000 contribution. But Martin wouldn’t budge. He noted that groups are seeking funds from Garfield County for trails in the lower Colorado River Valley, and between Buffalo Valley and Carbondale, so the decision couldn’t be made in haste.Commissioner Larry McCown didn’t respond favorably or negatively to the proposal. A decision won’t be made until the budget is set later this year.Garfield County risks egg on its face if it doesn’t contribute, although that may not matter to some officials. If there is a one-mile gap between the Carbondale stretch and the Pitkin County line – especially one that requires trail users to cross a bridge shared with vehicles – county officials could feel heat from their constituents.Pitkin County hopes to keep chipping away at the trail up McClure Pass over the next several years. The last 18 miles of the project, after phase one, would be in its jurisdiction. Trail advocates hope the Crystal Valley trail eventually hooks into a route that goes all the way to Crested Butte, according to Tom Newland, a consultant on the project with Pitkin County.Trail advocates have built about 4.5 miles of trail outside of Crested Butte and are seeking ways to complete it to the summit of Kebler Pass, according to Newland.If the bigger dream is ever achieved, it would be a 72-mile trail linking Carbondale and Crested Butte over two mountain passes.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com