Opinions vary as Rio Grande Trail project nears completion | AspenTimes.com
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Opinions vary as Rio Grande Trail project nears completion

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times
The Rio Grande trail now splits into two sections for a nearly two-mile stretch between McLain Flats Road through the sage flats, offering both a hard and soft surface for people to access.
Michael McLaughlin/The Aspen Times |

The first phase of the Rio Grande Trail upgrade is nearing completion, which means users will have new options.

Because of the variety of users on the Rio Grande, including walkers and runners, dog walkers, bike enthusiasts and horse riders, among others, the Open Space staff decided to offer users a choice of hard and soft surfaces through a 2-mile stretch of the trail below McLain Flats.

The upgrades are part of the Roaring Fork Gorge Management Plan by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. And they come after Open Space staff went through a series of public meetings to understand what the local community needs were, then evaluated their information while looking at the opportunities, constraints, existing issues and public comments. Staff used that information and developed a draft plan.

“One of the big priorities that came out of the Roaring Fork Gorge Management Plan was the public was in favor of having trail options on the Rio Grande from McLain Flats Road through the sage flats,” said Gary Tennenbaum, the assistant director for Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. “We’re incorporating separated hard and soft surfaces, and single-track options where possible.”

The project is estimated to cost $1.4 million when completed. The trail improvements began in August.

During the trail improvements, a detour was set up from McLain Flats Road through Stevens Street. Tennenbaum said that stretch of the Rio Grande is one of the heaviest-used trails, especially in the summer.

“In July of 2013, 22,000 people accessed that section of the trail,” he said. “On average, 500 to 600 people will use that part of the trail per day. This isn’t a repair job; it’s an improvement.”

Not everyone shared the same opinion about the project.

Aaron Pool works at the Hub of Aspen bike shop. Pool didn’t support paving that stretch of Rio Grande trail from an environmental standpoint, but he said that plenty of cyclists would benefit from using a paved trail system and not on a public road.

“Ninety percent of the people I rent bikes to want to use the paved stretches of the trail,” Pool said. “A lot of those people are inexperienced riders and shouldn’t be on the road, so I can see the advantage of paving the Rio Grande.”

Gordon Silver was rising by the Woody Creek Tavern Friday morning and had a strong opinion about the trail.

“I wish they would pave the whole Rio Grande Trail,” he said. “It’s a much safer place to ride than on the road with cars. The more paved bike paths, the better. Let’s encourage more people to ride bikes locally. It can be tough to ride a road bike with skinny tires on a soft path.”

Woody Creek Community Center employee Tracie Wright isn’t a fan of cyclists who insist on using public roads and often ride in groups that block traffic with little concern to the drivers.

“I think the county is doing the fair thing by giving people choices,” said Wright, who’s an avid biker as well. “Those stinker-butts with the fancy bikes can handle a bit of unpaved trail, especially with the fine gravel the county is using. There are still people that use the Rio Grande to ride their horses on, and remember that horses have the right of way on the trail.”

Aspen accountant Steve Marolt bikes the Rio Grande often and thinks the Open Space went overboard with the multi-use idea on the trial.

“I’ve seen road projects in Southern California that were less involved,” Marolt said. “It’s beautiful, but it’s absurd. I’m sure the idea is to get people off of McLain Flats and avoid the road traffic by paving that 2-mile section, but if that’s the case, why not just pave the whole trial? It’s an asinine boondoggle. I’m sure there were better ways to spend all that money.”

After completion of the first phase, the second phase will focus on the approximately two miles of trail from Stein Park through the shale bluff formation.

There are currently two trail surface options for completion.

The first option would continue to maintain a compacted soft surface within the existing trail platform while improving sections that have drainage and erosion issues with grading, retaining walls, culverts, and new crusher fines that incorporate a hardening agent. The project would carry an estimated cost of $300,000.

The second would have the trail replaced with a 10-foot minimum asphalt surface, working with in the existing trail platform and would have an adjacent soft-surface track where there is space, estimated at approximately 31 percent of the trail. Railings would be added in locations where the trail drop-off is steep. The design would accommodate the Nordic groomers while exploring ways to retain snow. This design would also address areas where standing water, water flows and rockfall creates trail maintenance issues. The estimated cost sits at $3.5 million.

Construction for both Phase two options would begin in the summer of 2015.

mmclaughlin@aspentimes.com


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