Garfield dumps Crystal trail
Backers of a trail through the Crystal River Valley got a cold shoulder Monday from the Garfield County commissioners. The commissioners turned down a request for $150,000 from Pitkin County Open Space and Trails for construction of a one-mile section of the trail that will follow the river and Highway 133 south of Carbondale. Part of the request was $100,000 worth of donated labor and materials from the county for trail base and bridge construction.Garfield’s section is just south of Carbondale, about a mile to the Pitkin County line. A section of trail has already been constructed through Carbondale, from the intersection of highways 133 and 82 to Snowmass Drive.The commissioners have given money to two other trails projects. The Lower Valley Trails Group received $85,000 for its trail beside Interstate 70 from West Glenwood Springs to Canyon Creek. The commissioners also promised $50,000 to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority for a segment of the Rio Grande Trail near Carbondale. That trail follows the former railroad corridor between Carbondale and Aspen.”It was very disappointing,” said Dale Will, director of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. “We did the best we could. We made a proposal where we reduced their cost by over 50 percent. … We don’t think they would ever see a proposal better than [this one].”The entire trail would run 22 miles from Carbondale to the top of McClure Pass. Pitkin County plans to construct 4.2 miles of trail in 2006 from Carbondale to Thompson Creek at a cost of $1.2 million, Will said.Pitkin County has applied for a $200,000 grant from the state trails program to cover part of the projected cost of $390,000 for Garfield’s segment of trail.”We thought we were being generous in allocating the whole grant [to Garfield County] rather than spreading it out between Carbondale and Pitkin County,” Will said. “We also offered to donate a recycled [Maroon Creek] bridge. … Pitkin County and Carbondale offered to assume maintenance. We gave them a chance to get this thing done at less than half cost [compared with future costs].”During their deliberations Monday, the commissioners were sharply divided over whether to fund the Crystal trail. Commissioner Trési Houpt supported the request, and Larry McCown and John Martin opposed it.Houpt said the commission should support the Crystal Valley Trail as it supported the LoVa and Rio Grande trails. Martin and McCown disagreed.”[The] road and bridge [department] can’t get to all the projects it has. To do this they would have to put off other projects or contract out for the work,” Martin said.”Our priority is getting roads fixed,” he said.Both were concerned the trail will be built within the Colorado Department of Transportation right of way. Rather than granting a permanent easement for a trail, CDOT issues a revocable license, which creates uncertainty about who maintains or upgrades the trail. The county has said it does not want responsibility of maintaining trails in CDOT rights of way.”None of us get the certainty we would like to have,” Will said.McCown also said he worried that once the county is committed to an in-kind donation, there is no guarantee the county section could be completed for that amount since construction costs are on the rise.”I have a problem with the $150,000 in-kind donation. I don’t see us being allowed to pull out once we reach $150,000 … and there’s still a half-mile of trail left,” he said. McCown and Martin also have philosophical reasons for denying the trail funding.”I’m not sure [county] government is in a position to pay for recreation,” McCown said. “CDOT is not coming to the table. [Trails] should be built and maintained with state money, and clearly not local government.””We have to find another source of funding for trails,” Martin said.But Houpt argued that trails serve a larger need than transportation.”I see the trail as meeting the needs for alternative transportation. I can see the benefit of allowing road and bridge to work on the trail,” she said.Rancher Bill Fales, who lives on Highway 133 south of Carbondale, said the trail is a necessary safety feature.”It’s a scary section of road. The trail would be a huge safety benefit,” he said.Without Garfield County funding, Will said, there may very well be a gap in the trail. Or Pitkin County and Carbondale could fund the Garfield County section.”We could try to find some money to cover for Garfield County, which I’m going to bring up, but I don’t know how Pitkin County and Carbondale would feel about it.”
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Colorado’s Western Slope is considered a climate hot spot where temperatures are increasing faster than the global average. This warming has contributed to more than 20 years of dryness, which scientists are calling a megadrought.