Debate on controversial Crystal Valley Trail could last for 12 years |

Debate on controversial Crystal Valley Trail could last for 12 years

Designing a hiking and biking trail in the Crystal Valley faces challenges, such as this narrow corridor near Hayes Creek Falls.
Dale Will

Pitkin County is preparing to launch a three-month public vetting process on a draft plan for Crystal Valley Trail, but in reality the debate will stretch over the next 12 years, county officials acknowledged Tuesday.

The trail will be planned and built in phases out of financial necessity. County officials want to tackle what is perceived to be the less controversial section first. That’s the roughly 7.5 miles from Redstone to the summit of McClure Pass. Detailed planning is supposed to occur on that stretch later this year and in 2019.

Detailed planning for the roughly 10-mile stretch between Redstone and the 7 Oaks neighborhood south of Carbondale will commence in waves between 2020 and 2030, according to a proposal unveiled by the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails staff for the county commissioners Tuesday.

“It’s phased over a really long time,” said Gary Tennenbaum, executive director of the open space program.

The stretch north of Redstone is where most of the controversy lurks. There are five sections of trail in the 10 miles where the open space staff isn’t recommending an alignment, either because of issues with private landowners or because further study is needed on issues such as wildlife impacts.

Alignments still need to be hashed out at 7 Oaks, Nettle Creek, Crystal River Country Estates, Avalanche and Wild Rose, just south of Filoha Meadows.

Based on the county officials’ discussion Tuesday, settling on alignments won’t be easy. Commissioner Steve Child pressed the point that the trail alignment should be kept on the west side of the Crystal River whenever possible to avoid sensitive wildlife habitat on the east side. He is opposed to building a trail in areas where it will have to be closed from late fall until late spring to prevent interference with wildlife.

“If it’s closed five-and-a-half months per year, why would we even do that?” Child asked the other board members.

Other commissioners disagreed for practical and philosophical reasons. Commissioner Rachel Richards said the trail would have to be squeezed right next to Highway 133 in many sections of the narrow corridor if it is kept west of the river. Snowplowing by the Colorado Department of Transportation would eliminate use of the trail during winter months for safety.

Plus, a trail along the highway would be about as unattractive as using the shoulder, particularly for pedestrians.

“If this is just a trail along the highway, why even walk it?” Richards asked.

She said several of the trails created by Pitkin County in recent years have been popular and successful even with winter closures.

Commissioner George Newman said the greatest use of trails occurs from May into October, so closing a trail for the winter months isn’t a waste of money.

The public will have plenty of opportunities to weigh in on alignment issues in May, June and July. Even though detailed trail planning will occur in future years, the open space program wants to complete a draft plan for the Crystal Valley Trail this year.

Public presentations are tentatively set for May 10 in Redstone, May 16 in Carbondale and May 21 in Aspen. A public comment meeting with the county commissioners is tentatively scheduled for June 26. Details on the meetings will be released closer to those dates. Written comments are due in July.

Tennenbaum likened the draft plan to a vision for the trail that will help guide future review.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” he said.

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