New pedestrian bridge builds hope of Aspen-to-Glenwood trail
Aspen Times Staff Writer
The vision of a valleywide trail from Aspen to Glenwood Springs moved a step closer to reality Friday when a new pedestrian bridge opened across Highway 82 at Wingo Junction.
Officials from the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program, the Roaring Fork Transit Authority and the Colorado Department of Transportation celebrated Friday’s opening of the bridge.
They used huge scissors for the obligatory ribbon cuttings. A handful of speeches were also given but, a little ironically, they were mostly drowned out by the sound of traffic from Highway 82.
The speeches weren’t the big deal anyway. The big news was the bridge now allows cyclists to ride from the old Emma school house to Aspen without venturing onto a road.
Before the bridge was completed, a nearby railroad trestle across the Roaring Fork River was also rehabilitated. Together they allow a spur to be tied into the main Basalt-to-Old Snowmass Trail. The 2.5-mile spur cuts through one of the prettiest stretches of the valley. It starts in Emma, goes behind Basalt High School and through the private golf course of the Roaring Fork Club as well as a couple of ranches.
From Old Snowmass, paved and gravel trails go on or near the old Rio Grande Railroad bed into the heart of Aspen.
The Pitkin County Trails and Open Space program has funded the majority of improvements to the system. Program director Dale Will said $3.5 million has been spent in four years.
That effort provided a trail to Pitkin County’s downvalley line. Now the question is will that trail dead-end at Emma or get extended toward Carbondale and Glenwood Springs?
The open space board took a $650,000 gamble with the new pedestrian bridge that the trail will go farther downvalley than 2.5 miles. “The public support is very strong,” said Will. “It’s just a matter of coordinating funding for it.”
Will is among valley trail proponents who believe that providing funding is more like making an investment in an important amenity.
“I think that trail would be the single biggest recreational draw in the valley,” he said.
Extending the trail from the Emma school house downvalley about one mile to the Hooks Spur bridge is next in the sights of trail proponents and could be completed by fall. The MidValley Trails Committee has secured funding for the project and is taking bids for the work.
Once that stretch is completed, a cyclist or pedestrian could tie into the Willits Trail, which provides access to the El Jebel City Market, among other things.
The town of Carbondale has converted the old railroad right of way through its boundaries into a paved trail. However, there are no current plans for work on the six-mile stretch between Hooks Spur bridge and Carbondale nor are there plans for the lengthy section between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.
RFTA has contributed $300,000 over the last two years for trail-related work, according to director Dan Blankenship. With Garfield County showing no inclination to fund trail construction, the pressure may mount on RFTA to spur work in that county.
Blankenship said the RFTA board is scheduled to begin discussions Thursday at a regular board meeting on its commitment and ability to fund trails.
History shows that the cost of building trails is about $125,000 per mile for gravel and $170,000 per mile for pavement, according to Will.
Regardless of what happens downvalley, the trestle and pedestrian bridge are now open to the public. It was built by Zimmerman Metals and Steel and constructed by Edward Kraemer and Son.
The trestle was rehabbed by Aspen Earthmoving, Farhurst Enterprises and Myers and Company Architectural Metals. Both bridges were designed by Meheen Engineering.
The Rio Grande Trail approaching the bridges was built by Aspen Earthmoving.