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Nordic trail system could expand with Rio Grande

Allyn Harvey

The Nordic trail system in the Roaring Fork Valley is the largest in the United States – 85 kilometers of trails that are open to Nordic skiers and snowshoers, free of charge – and it may be getting bigger this winter.

Three members of the Nordic Council, the local group that manages and maintains the trail network, told the Pitkin County Commissioners yesterday that they would like to explore the possibility of using the Rio Grande Trail for Nordic skiing and other winter uses.

“The window for using the Rio Grande is so small – three months at most,” said Nordic Council board member Jim Mickey.

Mickey was joined by fellow board member Peter Looram and Ben Dodge, the trails coordinator. Their visit with the commissioners was more of a check-in than anything else, Looram said, to let everyone know how the county’s $35,000 annual contribution is being spent.

So far the money has gone to setting tracks in the North Star Preserve, around the public golf course in Aspen and the private golf course at the Snowmass Club and along Owl Creek Road between the airport and Snowmass Village.

The newest feature of the program is a set of trails around the golf course in Aspen that are specifically set up for people who like to walk, especially people who like to walk their dogs. They’ve also developed new signs for the existing trail network and for some of the more popular “off trail” routes, like Government Trail between Buttermilk and Snowmass.

Dodge told the commissioners the Nordic Council is laying narrower trails than last year at North Star, partly because they seem to work as well, and partly because the city has the equipment that allows for it. The council is grooming less often and using a snowcat instead of the more environmentally-noxious snowmobiles, which were used in the past.

“North Star is a great example of everybody getting together to make things work,” Dodge said.

The Nordic Council members also mentioned that the T-Lazy-7 Ranch, which runs a snowmobile tour operation up the Maroon Creek Valley in the winter, is considering expanding the Nordic trail network all the way up to Maroon Lake.

But much of the discussion focused on the possibilities presented by the Rio Grande Trail and the new trail along Lower River Road. Looram said the goal of the council is to have a trail network that extends from Aspen to Basalt, at least for the snowiest months of the year.

“We can flatten it out by running a snowmobile up and down the trail, which lets more people use it,” Mickey said. “If someone’s walking with a baby walker, they still do it on packed snow.”

He pointed out that the window of use is very small. Nevertheless, the idea may not sit well with some property owners whose driveways cross the publicly-owned bicycle trails.

“We’ve never set a winter use policy on the trails,” said County Manager Suzanne Konchan. “The Nordic Council has expressed a desire to use it for Nordic skiing and some of the trail’s neighbors are asking us to plow it for non-Nordic purposes. So there are some competing interests.”

The Nordic trail system is funded by the the city of Aspen, the town of Snowmass Village and Pitkin County. Together, the governments donate about $105,000 toward the program, according to Dodge, and private donations add several thousand more.


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