Public weighs in on paving Rio Grande Trail below Aspen |

Public weighs in on paving Rio Grande Trail below Aspen

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Paving the remaining gravel stretch of the Rio Grande Trail, below Aspen, appears to have the greatest support among options under consideration for what to do with the unpaved segment, but public input so far suggests plenty of disagreement on the matter.

Pitkin County Open Space and Trails has asked the public to weigh in on the pave-or-don’t-pave question, offering several alternatives to provide a hard-surface bike route, but opinions on the subject are as diverse as the options.

At issue is about a 4-mile stretch of the trail between Aspen and Woody Creek – the only significant piece of the 42-mile trail between Aspen and Glenwood Springs that is not currently paved.

A bike tour of the stretch begins Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at Stein Park (at the bottom of Cemetery Lane). Participants should be prepared to pedal eight miles out and back; call 970-920-5232 to reserve a spot for the site visit. On Wednesday, the final open house to review the alternatives will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the art-gallery room at Colorado Mountain College in Aspen.

Public comment is also being accepted via an online survey through Sept. 21 – go to to comment and review the options in detail.

Survey comments thus far indicate strong, though far from unanimous, support for paving the remaining gravel stretch.

“It’s silly to have just four miles of the trail as soft surface,” one respondent said.

“What are we waiting for?” another asked.

“The vision of the valley-long Rio Grande is for a paved trail running between Glenwood Springs and Aspen. Please finish the job,” yet another said.

There was also this: “It’s a disgrace that Pitkin County still has yet to pave this section of the valley trail.”

One proposed alternative accommodates both hard and soft surfaces in the stretch wherever possible, with just pavement in the most constricted areas. It was the single most favored option by Monday morning, with 55 survey respondents giving it the thumbs-up among 182 total responses.

Many people indicated they favor a combination of options, while some are urging open space officials to leave the stretch alone.

“Please stop spending millions like it’s monopoly money,” one respondent said.

The options under consideration for the segment range in price from an estimated $700,000 to $22 million. They include: upgrading the existing soft-surface stretch but leaving it as a gravel surface only (the least expensive option); upgrading the existing gravel stretch and creating climbing lanes for bicyclists on both ends of McLain Flats Road, a route that bypasses the gravel segment; creating a dual-surface trail in the existing corridor, with pavement only in the narrowest stretch; or creating a dual-surface trail along the Rio Grande throughout the gravel section (the most costly option). Another option involves creating a dual-surface trail on the Woody Creek end and a paved route via a new bridge over the Roaring Fork River gorge that would connect to open space on the Highway 82 side of the river at roughly the downvalley end of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. A paved trail would then link into the Aspen Business Center and an existing bike-path system. The Rio Grande Trail above the bridge would remain gravel up to Stein Park.

A number of survey respondents favor the bridge option in order to give residents of the business center and North 40 subdivision better access to the Rio Grande Trail. Currently, a steep down-and-up route connects the business center to the Rio Grande via a bridge over the Roaring Fork River. The gravel/dirt link features steps on the business-center side. The river is in a gorge below both the center and the Rio Grande Trail in that location.

Many who chose to comment noted they feel unsafe riding a bicycle on Highway 82 but said that route is the most logical one for residents of the business-center area who are headed downvalley. Others urged the new bridge connection to the business center and a paved bike trail from the center to the Brush Creek intercept lot, on the Highway 82 side of the river.

Paving the gravel section of the Rio Grande Trail raises safety concerns for some people; they predicted conflicts with speeding road bikers and the addition of skateboarders and inline skaters to the mix of users.

“Even with a dirt surface, on a crowded summer day there are a lot of bikers and it can feel pretty nuts,” one respondent said. “If it’s paved, I’m literally afraid for someone’s life.”

Some people suggested road bikers would rather be on McLain Flats Road than the bike path regardless, obviating the need for pavement, while others said climbing lanes on McLain Flats aren’t sufficient to improve safety for bicyclists on the road.

Simply retaining the gravel trail section is also an option that has fans, many of whom said the existing conditions improve one’s trail experience and interaction with the surroundings. The unpaved stretch between Stein Park and McLain Flats Road above Woody Creek features a canyon-like area and waterfall, and is in close proximity to the river for much of the way.

“Lack of pavement makes it more rural and pleasing, given its riverside setting,” one respondent said.

“The soft surface section below Stein Park is unique and irreplaceable,” another wrote.

“Please do not pave this trail – in my opinion, it would ruin it,” another said.

The Open Space and Trails Board of Trustees is tentatively scheduled to review the public input on the alternatives Oct. 18.

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