Neighbors: Rio Grande too wide | AspenTimes.com

Neighbors: Rio Grande too wide

Charles Agar

Shane Dooley with Gould Construction, compacts dirt Thursday on the new Rio Grande Trail. (Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

Improvements to the Rio Grande Trail on the outskirts of Aspen have made it too wide, say detractors who’ve been watching its transformation.”They think it’s improvement, but they are ruining a pristine area that locals have enjoyed for years,” said Junee Kirk, a resident who lives near the trail.Builders say the project is going as planned and the trail will be better than ever when finished. Crews Thursday were running a 14-foot-wide “blade,” a leveling machine that establishes a smooth grade, followed by a steamroller that compacted the road base in preparation for paving.Kirk estimated the trail is 26 feet wide in places – much wider than planned.”It’s very upsetting to see a trail ruined by the trails department,” Kirk said. “It’s atrocious. It’s not a trail, it’s a road.”

Kirk said she’s not the only one frustrated with the project, and she is disappointed she and others had no voice in the planning.Gould Construction supervisor Mike Woodhams said the company will lay down a 10-foot-wide paved path from the Aspen post office to Cemetery Lane. Within the 20-foot right of way for the project, there will be sections with 4-foot widths of crushed fines for jogging and cross-country skiing, as well as 4 feet of grass in addition to the 10-foot paved path, he said.Woodhams said new sewer lines dictated the width of the excavation in some places, and sewer lines needed to be 10 feet below grade. That meant digging a wide trench to prevent sidewall collapse. There are two areas where the trail splits, and those areas are wider, Woodhams said. This is what he thinks is the source of the local outcry, but said the paved path would not be wider than 10 feet in any section, adding the project will look much better when complete.”This is not the finished product,” said Nathan Ellsworth, who drives the blade. He said people are worried because the job is just bare dirt today: “They see it as it is, and they freak out.”Ellsworth said many people have complained, but added many have come by to compliment the crew on the job. He said workers always stop the machinery when someone comes by, even though the trail is currently closed for paving.

“I’ve been upset about it since it first began,” said full-time Aspen resident Patti Seifert. “They are taking out the foliage, the serviceberries and the chokecherries along the path.” Seifert is not just worried about the loss of shade, but also said the whole nature of the trail has changed.”It feels like a road,” she said. “The trail system now seems to think that everything has to be completely flat and wide.”Seifert is also frustrated at the long period of construction – more than a year now.Director Dale Will and his Open Space and Trails agency work along with the parks department to lay out the trail. He asked for patience with the project.”The final result of what we’re doing is going to look better than ever,” Will said. “After the vegetation grows back in, people are going to be happy with the results.”Will said planners are making the best of a difficult situation: The trail had to be torn up to accommodate new utilities, sewer and power, and Open Space was making improvements while putting it back together.

“In the past, there were bandit trails for runners looking for soft-trail use,” Will said. With the reconstruction, planners were moving the paved trail farther up hill to make space for a separate soft surface closer to the river. The trails will be separated and bordered by grassy areas, Will said.In the past, the trail saw as many as 400 riders, walkers and runners per day, Will said, and accidents became a problem, adding that Aspen Valley Hospital nicknamed one area “collarbone corner.” In the end, the trail will not just be more safe, but quite attractive, Will said.The Rio Grande project went before the parks department and the Open Space board, as well as the Pitkin County commissioners for approval. The project had lots of public support and ample time for public comment, Will said, adding that people are jumping to conclusions and a lot of the disturbance along the corridor will grow back and the trail will look better than ever.Kirk is still frustrated: “We’re all getting the run-around. We’re just sick over it,” she said.Seifert said she would like planners to reconsider their decision to go ahead with building the trail.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com.

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