Governor boosts 74-mile Carbondale to Crested Butte trail

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

The dream of building a trail between Carbondale and Crested Butte got a boost Wednesday when it was named by Gov. John Hickenlooper as one of 16 trails that are a priority to get built in the state.

The 74-mile trail has been discussed since at least 1994, when the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program commissioned a feasibility study, said Dale Will, the current director of the program. The study was commissioned prior to his time, but he’s wholeheartedly behind the project.

Will said several qualities make the proposed trail special.

“The Crystal Valley is just national park-quality scenery,” he said. Pedestrians and cyclists would travel in the shadow of Mount Sopris. It would tie the communities of Carbondale, Redstone and Crested Butte together, with a short side jaunt to Marble. The new trail also would hook into the Rio Grande Trail in Carbondale and allow for extensive travel for cyclists with the right equipment.

“Traveling by muscle power, we need to do more of,” Will said.

Then there would be the ride through the majestic aspen grove of Kebler Pass. The grove has been identified as one of the largest single living organisms in the world, Will said. The golden colors draw waves of tourists at leaf-peeping time.

There’s also a historic component to the trail. Will said the Hayden survey party found a trail in the Crystal Valley in the 1870s before the Ute Indians were removed. A Colorado Atlas published in 1884 from Hayden’s work shows the trail.

“Humans had a trail up and down the Crystal for hundreds of years,” Will said. It was obliterated during the Industrial Age.

Pitkin County has already constructed a trail 5 miles south of Carbondale to BRB Campground on Highway 133 in conjunction with Carbondale. A trail has been extended to Lake Irwin from Crested Butte. Filling the gap of 60-some miles is the tough part.

The governor’s “16 in 2016” initiative said the 17-mile stretch to complete the Crystal Valley Trail is “the next step.” The stretch from BRB to the summit of McClure Pass is in Pitkin County. The stretch from Crested Butte to the summit is in Gunnison County. The counties passed an intergovernmental agreement 10 years ago to pursue the project.

The governor’s priority list doesn’t specifically make funds available for the 16 projects, but it will help the trails clear regulatory hurdles and line them up for funding. Hickenlooper said Great Outdoors Colorado will invest $30 million on trails projects in the next four years.

Will said Pitkin County Open Space and Trails won’t be ready to pursue funding to construct a trail until it works out right-of-way and engineering issues. “We’ve got some problems to solve,” he said. But given the governor’s priority list, he sees a need to get the work finished as quickly as possible.

“I want to make sure we ride this wave,” he said.


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