Ofﬁcials mull unpaved stretch of Rio Grande near Aspen
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – Three options to provide a paved bike route all the way between Woody Creek and Aspen will be analyzed in the coming months as Pitkin County Open Space and Trails prepares to address the remaining unpaved stretch of the popular Rio Grande Trail.
Proposals were due Thursday from engineering consultants bidding to assist Open Space and Trails in the conceptual design of a dual-surface trail and estimating the cost of alternatives to accomplish the goal of providing both soft- and hard-surface options for bicyclists. This year’s open space budget includes $50,000 for the preliminary work.
Last year, a dual surface was created through the Woody Creek area where only a compacted gravel trail had existed previously. About four miles of unpaved trail remains between the Rio Grande’s crossing of McLain Flats Road above Woody Creek and Stein Park below Aspen.
Through the remaining stretch, the trail corridor is narrow in places, with a steep hillside above it and a steep drop-off to the Roaring Fork River below it. Putting side-by-side soft and hard surfaces there won’t be possible in the most constricted spots, said Lindsey Utter, recreation planner for Open Space and Trails.
Nonetheless, responses to a survey conducted last summer indicate support for some sort of paved route for bicyclists between Stein Park and Woody Creek. The remainder of the Rio Grande Trail, which connects Aspen to Glenwood Springs, is paved.
The survey asked respondents what option they would prefer if the county created a hard surface. Seventy-four percent advocated extending pavement on the unpaved piece of the Rio Grande, while 14.8 percent said they would prefer widened shoulders along McLain Flats Road – an alternate route around the unpaved section that includes a steep hill on each end and mixes bicyclists with vehicular traffic. Another 1.2 percent wanted both the widened road shoulders and pavement on the Rio Grande, while 6.5 percent of the respondents said the trail should be left as it is. The remainder, 3.6 percent, provided other responses.
Open Space and Trails since has developed three options for consideration, according to Utter.
The first leaves the existing gravel stretch of the Rio Grande Trail as it is. Paved shoulders would be created on McLain Flats Road for the climb out of Woody Creek and Stein Park, but bicyclists would ride the road as they do now where the road flattens out atop McLain Flats. Some retaining walls would be necessary as part of the added shoulders.
A second option would create a dual-surface trail on the existing trail platform, but there would be only pavement on the narrowest stretches, where there isn’t room for both. Retaining walls to hold back the hillside above the trail would be necessary in some areas, Utter said.
The third option involves a dual-surface trail between Woody Creek and the lower end of Shale Bluffs, where the trail corridor narrows as it continues upvalley. At that point, a bridge would carry a paved trail across the Roaring Fork River gorge; the trail would then be routed to the Aspen Business Center and tie in with the existing paved trail network between the center and town. The bridge would be comparable to the Tiehack pedestrian bridge that spans the Maroon Creek gorge between the Aspen Recreation Center and the Tiehack side of Buttermilk, Utter said.
The latter alternative would provide paved access to the Rio Grande Trail from the population center in and around the business center, she noted. There is a steep gravel route between the center and the trail at present that uses an existing bridge to cross the Roaring Fork.
“It would be connecting a fairly populated area into the Rio Grande,” she said.
The engineering, aesthetics and financial impact of each alternative will be analyzed and open houses are anticipated this summer to seek public input on the options, Utter said. Future construction depends upon the outcome of this year’s feasibility study.
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