Pitkin County commissioners give OK to start Crystal Valley Trail draft plan | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County commissioners give OK to start Crystal Valley Trail draft plan

The Crystal River snakes through a section of the valley around Placita in a shot taken last fall. Pitkin County is studying alignments for a possible pedestrian trail.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails staff got a green light Tuesday to start working on a draft plan for a pedestrian trail in the Crystal Valley.

However, the Pitkin County commissioners vowed when giving that green light that the public will have extensive opportunities to shape the outcome in what’s been a controversial debate so far.

“We’re not ramming anything down anybody’s throat,” Commissioner Rachel Richards said in a joint meeting between the commissioners and Open Space and Trails board of trustees.

She said she pored over the 500-plus public responses to a recent public survey and found deep divisions. Some respondents called for protesting wildlife habitat while others said getting cyclists off Highway 133 should be a top priority. Other respondents expressed opposite views on alignments along various segments. About 12 percent of respondents called for “no trail,” she noted.

The county commissioners stressed that the public will be at the center of a process intended to strive for consensus.

“I don’t like those 51 to 49 (percent) votes,” Richards said.

After 90 minutes of discussion between the commissioners and open space trustees, the commissioners directed the staff to complete a draft plan for the 17-mile trail from BRB Campground outside of Carbondale to the McClure Pass summit. It’s part of the 74-mile Carbondale-to-Crested Butte trail being contemplated by Pitkin and Gunnison counties.

Once the draft for the Pitkin County portion is completed, it will be scrutinized at additional joint meetings between the boards and potentially tweaked before it’s unveiled to the public for more comment. No timeline for completion of the draft plan was discussed.

“This is a pretty typical process. It’s just a huge process,” said Gary Tennenbaum, executive director of Open Space and Trails. “We knew it was going to be complicated.”

He said public comment would be collected at several successive steps.

Some participants in the discussion opined it could be years before a trail is built given the expense and current lack of consensus over a preferred alignment.

The draft plan will look at issues such as impacts to wildlife habitat, engineering challenges of differing alignments, quality of experience for trail users and cost.

While much is unknown about the trail, the commissioners made it clear they will ultimately decide the trail’s fate.

“The final approval is in the hands of the commissioners,” said Patti Clapper, chairwoman of the commissioners.

Open space board member Tim McFlynn said the county’s spending of restricted funds in the open space program require a recommendation of uses by the open space board. County Manager Jon Peacock nipped discussion of that point until a later time but noted there are “different interpretations” on McFlynn’s point.

Tennenbaum stressed that future discussions about the trail will occur in joint sessions between the commissioners and open space board and that dialogue between then is “essential” for success with this plan.