Glenwood-Woody Creek trail draws protesters
A trail along the 35-mile former railroad corridor from Glenwood Springs to Woody Creek is a dream to some but a potential thorn in the side of others.
A group of ditch owners appeared before the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority Wednesday in Carbondale to protest the construction of a trail that they say will interfere with the workings of the Eli Cerise Ditch.
In fact, the eight owners hired hydrologist Scott Fifer of Resource Engineering in Glenwood Springs to evaluate the impact of the trail.
The newly built, paved trail runs alongside the railroad alignment from Gerbazdale into Snowmass Canyon, running alongside the Cerise ditch for a portion of that distance. It was constructed this summer by Pitkin County and financed by the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board.
According to the report, steep fill slopes on the ditch side of the trail encroach into the ditch in several locations, which has effectively reduced the flow capacity of the ditch. The fill slopes and the paved trail itself will create maintenance problems.
Those slopes will continue to erode and spill debris into the ditch, and they can’t be effectively revegetated, said Glenwood Springs attorney Lee Leavenworth, representing the ditch owners.
The impacts of the trail affect approximately 830 feet of the ditch into which trail fill material fell. Because of the steep slopes below the trail, more fill material is expected to fall into the ditch in the future, Fifer added in his report.
Historically, the maintenance crew has used the railroad corridor to dump debris it cleaned out of the ditch using a backhoe. In the future they will have no place close at hand to dispose of the debris, Leavenworth said.
“In short, the potential for conflict in the future is certain if we don’t do something.”
Liability is also a concern, he continued. A child could fall off a bike and into the ditch.
As a solution to the potential problems, Fifer suggested diverting the ditch into a pipe and covering it over. He estimated the cost and installation of 1,650 feet of 30-inch pipe at between $60,000 and $100,000.
A number of the ditch owners spoke out at Wednesday’s meeting, reiterating Leavenworth’s concerns.
But the RFRHA board expressed skepticism over the trail’s actual impact, especially after hearing from Pitkin County project manager Temple Glassier, who oversaw the construction of the trail.
Glassier argued that the steep slopes can be successfully revegetated, and plans call for spreading seed there in October.
She admitted that some paving material did go into the ditch during construction but that it was cleaned out. The report, she added, was prepared while construction was in progress.
And, Glassier claimed, maintenance wouldn’t be a problem since rubber-tired hoes could be driven along the paved trail to clean out the ditch in the spring. She also recommended that an agreement with the ditch owners spell out when that cleanup would take place, since the trail would have to be closed for a period of a few days.
Glassier also argued that liability was not a serious issue with the ditch. She pointed out that a section of trail between Old Snowmass and Basalt runs along ditches in some areas and there have not been any reported problems. The big issue when the trail was constructed there was that people would skinny dip in the ditch, she said. But as far as she knew that hadn’t happened.
RFRHA board member George Roussos questioned the number of attorneys in the audience representing ditch owners. “Wouldn’t it have been more neighborly to call RFRHA earlier?” he said. “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
But he also assured the owners he wanted to work with them. “We want to be good neighbors and work out these issues with them.”
Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board program director Dale Wille also expressed his wish to solve the potential problem. “We are charged with both protecting natural resources and historic agricultural uses. We don’t want to make it any more difficult than it is to continue agriculture in the valley.”
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