Marolt/Thomas Skill Trail takes one step closer towards reality

The Marolt Open Space in Aspen on Friday.
Ray K. Erku/The Aspen Times

Aspen Open Space and Trails board members decided to move forward with design and cost estimates for the proposed Marolt/Thomas Skill Trail, a collaborative project between Aspen’s Parks Department and Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association (RFMBA) aimed at enhancing the city’s recreational offerings.

Community members were invited to an information session held just prior to a Thursday board meeting at City Hall to allow for project leaders to showcase detailed plans, maps, and visuals for the project, followed by presentations by RFMBA Executive Director Mike Pritchard, Communications Coordinator Emily Ford, and Aspen Trail System Manager Brian Long.

The bike skill trail, located in the Thomas parcel of the Marolt/Thomas Open Space between Castle Creek Road and Marolt Place, was first proposed in the open space parcel in 2019 and has since gone through a series of public input and various meetings to determine its outcome.

Most recently, data collected from an Aspen Community Voice public survey showed overwhelming public support for the project, with 85.3% of people agreeing the new trails would be a benefit to the community and 83.9% agreeing the trails would enhance personal and family outdoor experiences.

Pritchard said the board’s decision to further advance the project was exciting and one step closer to seeing a 10-year-long endeavor finally come to fruition. He added that while there remains to be a lot of work ahead, the support shown by the community was both encouraging and a vast improvement from when the project was first proposed.

“From a design standpoint, we’re beyond a concept; we’ve got a really detailed design but it’s still pretty schematic, so we have to get into the details and really start trying to nail down the costs and figure out all of our funding sources and what portion will the city be able to fund,” he said. “A lot of behind the scenes work that needs to happen over the next year and more to get the contracts lined up, so that work can happen on the ground in 2025.”

A pedestrian bikes along a path at the Marolt Open Space in Aspen on Friday.
Ray K. Erku/The Aspen Times

While the project still remains separate from other Marolt Open Space activities, such as the Community Garden and Aspen Paragliding, there are still those among the community who expressed their disapproval during Thursday’s meeting via written statements.

Aspen Resident Ruth Harrison had a statement read, sharing her continued feelings that the open space area “does not need to be impacted by recreation” and that the peaceful uses she enjoys within the space, such as dog walking, would ultimately be disrupted.

Aspen community member Helen Palmer also expressed in her statement that while the skills trails proposal itself may be a good idea, she still disagrees with the area that’s been decided upon, stating, “the Marolt/Thomas Open Space, like other open space parcels was not intended to be cut up, built upon, or used as an athletic venue.”

In response, Pritchard said that one of the many benefits to the Marolt Open Space is the “many uses” it provides, and in that sense, it remains very different from other open spaces in the valley that are specifically for wildlife and don’t offer the same type of variety in activity and uses. 

“Our contention remains that the city has helped identify a really great location for this type of project,” he said. “We also think that it’s not going to be impactful to other uses, and that the new use can be managed in a way that everyone can get along.”

All board members proved to be in favor of seeing the project’s progress; however, concerns were still addressed and asked to be considered in moving forward. Board member Ann Mullins asked that staff have a clearer picture of the wildlife habitat impact within the location as plans proceed.

Aspen Parks and Open Space Director Matt Kuhn replied to her concerns by saying it was something staff “certainly could give additional considerations to.” Kuhn also mentioned the idea of a seasonal closure for the skills trails during the winter time for consideration to wildlife in the area.

Board member Dan Perl also raised the question of how to address individuals currently living in encampments within the proposed section of the Thomas parcel. Long replied by saying efforts are made “week to week” to ensure no encampments are taking place on the parcel. 

When asked if there were people living on it currently, he replied “not at this time,” adding that anyone found in a living arrangement on the parcel is given a 48-hour window to vacate the premises.

“In terms of our department allowing the unhoused population to dwell on this parcel, we’ve never allowed that to go long term,” he said. “Always a concern, it takes a lot of vigilance, whether this project or not, the Rangers are on that unfortunate task.”

Though no next public date has been set at this time, Kuhn said during the meeting that the next steps would be to continue work on the capital improvements plan over the next several months before bringing it to City Council, likely next March.