City of Aspen supportive of controversial trail to be built in Castle Creek Valley | AspenTimes.com

City of Aspen supportive of controversial trail to be built in Castle Creek Valley

Open space and trails officials for the City of Aspen and Pitkin County have gotten the go-ahead to design a modified trail on the east side of Castle Creek Road to connect the Aspen music school and Aspen Country Day School campuses to the Marolt Trail. This rendering shows how the trail would change along the way in response to the topography.

Open space and trails officials will go back to the drawing board to design a new trail along Castle Creek Road to make a safer route for Aspen Music School and Aspen Country Day School students.

Currently, music school students going to and from the campus have to walk along the shoulder of the busy road to access the bus stop and their housing complex.

The trail, which is less than 1 mile long, has been in the works for a decade, but county officials were thwarted when neighbors sued in 2007. The dispute has been settled, and a new effort began in the fall of 2016. Most of last year was dedicated to outreach. With dozens of letters from the public, officials have enough feedback to get into the final phase of the project to prepare for construction.

Tuesday, open space officials went before Aspen City Council to ask for approval of a modified trail on the east side of Castle Creek Road. About 20 percent of the trail is in the city while the remaining portion is in Pitkin County.

Three scenarios were considered, and the majority of public feedback indicated that building the trail on the east side of the road was the preferred option. But because of challenging topography and a tight corridor in some areas, open space officials want to modify the original plan.

The new alignment will require less infrastructure and maintenance and give users more options, according to Austin Weiss, the city's parks and open space director.

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"What we heard was if we are going to make any improvements, we need to serve as many users as possible," Weiss told the council.

The corridor is used by tens of thousands of people in the summer — bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians, many of whom are students.

The modified alignment will be designed to have a separate trail from the road where possible, and where it's tight, the pedestrian portion will be at grade with the road. An uphill bike lane will be designated, and the speed limit will be reduced in the corridor.

There is no cost estimated for the new design, but Gary Tennenbaum, executive director of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program, said it will be less than the original east-side alignment. The cost of that was pegged at $3.88 million.

The roughly 4,000-foot trail will run from the spot where the Marolt Trail crosses Castle Creek Road above Aspen Valley Hospital to the school campuses.

Alan Fletcher, president and CEO of the music festival, and Carolyn Hines, director of communications at Aspen Country Day School, voiced support for the modified alignment.

Representatives of both schools attended a county commissioner meeting in 2016 and showed a video of children, parents and music school students riding along Castle Creek Road while large trucks and cars attempted to avoid them. Students spoke in the video of their arms nearly being hit and a general lack of safety along the road.

Councilwoman Ann Mullins recalled that video and said it was terrifying to watch. She said she's glad that the trail is coming to fruition, even though it's costly.

"It's awfully expensive," she said, "but it's well-spent for who it is serving."

Council budgeted $100,000 for the design phase of the trail and is anticipating a request for about $750,000 in 2019 for the construction of the city's portion.

Councilmen Adam Frisch and Bert Myrin asked Tennenbaum why the names on the dozens of letters from public comment sessions were redacted. Myrin said he filed a Colorado Open Records Request Act to obtain the names.

"It's been our practice for a while but we can change it," Tennenbaum said. "On some of our more controversial projects we've told people they can be anonymous."

Mullins said luckily they are mostly positive comments.

"Even though we don't know who wrote the letters," she said, "clearly there is a lot of support."

Open space officials will come back to council with a modified design in the coming weeks. They also need approval from Pitkin County commissioners.

csackariason@aspentimes.com

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