Hunter Creek Trail extension gets go-ahead
August 15, 2012
ASPEN – Extension of Aspen’s Hunter Creek Trail, including a controversial crossing of Red Mountain Road, will proceed.
Pitkin County commissioners gave the project their blessing Tuesday, but they also called for additional safety features after several area residents said the crossing on the road is unsafe. The residents, who attended the work session, did not appear mollified by the enhancements.
“Those motorists are going to keep coming down as fast as they can, and I don’t think you can control it,” neighbor Junee Kirk said.
“This trail needs an underpass,” added resident Marc Zachary, urging commissioners to delay the project until next year.
Instead, a city crew will begin work on the 0.3-mile link, which will connect the Rio Grande Trail to the existing Hunter Creek Trail terminus off Lone Pine Road. The final design of the road crossing will come back to commissioners next week for a final OK.
In addition to a raised platform for the trail as it crosses Red Mountain Road, speed bumps will be added above and below the crossing. And physical barriers will be added on both trail approaches, forcing bicyclists to stop and dismount, though open space officials don’t believe the trail section will receive heavy mountain-bike use.
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“This is not a high-speed mountain-bike adventure trail,” said Stephen Ellsperman, city of Aspen parks and open space director.
The plan already called for user-activated warning lights to let Red Mountain motorists know there are people crossing the road.
The added features will bump the project over its $250,000 budget, commissioners were told, but Howie Mallory, chairman of both the city and county Open Space and Trails boards, said funding would be identified to cover the additional costs.
“We’ll find the money to make it happen,” he said.
Three commissioners supported moving ahead with the joint project, which the city hopes to complete this year. Commissioner Jack Hatfield voiced the sole opposition, calling the alternate route off Lone Pine safer. He also objected to the impacts of creating a new trail alignment. The extended trail will involve a new bridge over Hunter Creek and clearing a route between the creek and Red Mountain Road. Between the road and the Rio Grande Trail, the trail extension will cross through a grassy area.
Commissioner Rachel Richards lives in the Hunter Creek area and recused herself from the discussion.
Open space officials pointed out various other at-grade road crossings in the city-county trail system and other areas where speed bumps are in place to slow motorists down.
“Our experience is, once the crossing is in use, the behavior of motorists adjusts itself,” said Dale Will, county Open Space and Trails director.
“We can never make anything 100 percent safe,” said Commissioner George Newman, who supported letting the project go forward. “There’s personal responsibility involved in anything that you do.”
He advocated creation of the trail link, which will make it easier for hikers to find their way into the Hunter Creek Valley, a scenic backcountry area that is a short walk from urban Aspen.
Separate from the trail project, however, Commissioner Michael Owsley asked G.R. Fielding, county engineer, to look into improved maintenance of the Red Mountain Road bridge over Hunter Creek – a spot residents say has drainage problems and ices up regularly in cold weather. The trail will cross the road on the uphill side of the bridge.