Reversal of fortunes for Crystal Valley Trail
Plans for a bicycle trail in the Crystal Valley got a boost Monday when the Garfield County Commissioners reversed an earlier decision and agreed to contribute seed money.About 25 trail supporters, ranging from a Carbondale bicycle shop owner to the mayor of Glenwood Springs, pressed the commissioners to cough up $50,000 to help leverage a grant and move the project along.Without Garfield County’s philosophical and financial support, landing a state grant to help build the first leg of the trail was unlikely.”It’s a cash cow and if we don’t milk it, the cow dies,” said Carbondale Trustee Scott Chaplin.Trail proponents dream of a 26-mile route from Carbondale to the top of McClure Pass. They claim such a trail would be a tourist draw as popular as the Glenwood Canyon Trail, with big economic benefits for Carbondale and Redstone.The first step in the project is a 4.2-mile stretch just south of Carbondale. The town budgeted $125,000 to build about one mile of trail south of its border into unincorporated Garfield County. Pitkin County is prepared to spend $813,000 on a 2.2-mile stretch that falls in its jurisdiction.But those commitments appeared to be for naught because Garfield County had refused to fund construction of a 1.1-mile stretch of trail between Carbondale and Pitkin County.Garfield County Commissioner Trési Houpt has been a regular trail supporter, but commissioners John Martin and Larry McCown said in late October they wouldn’t support funding the trail in 2006. They appeared headed that direction again Monday.”I never said no; Larry never said no,” Martin said. “[But] the timing isn’t right.”Martin delivers shot in the armDuring a 90-minute public hearing Monday, Martin often challenged statements in favor of the trail. Debate remained civil, but hostilities seemed to lurk just beneath the surface. A handful of speakers, including Houpt, suggested McCown and Martin were ignoring the wishes of the majority of voters and taxpayers living in and around Carbondale by not funding the trail.John Hoffman, chairman of the Carbondale Trails Committee, said Garfield County’s lack of support was far-reaching. “It really does knock the feet out from under the project,” he said.When the discussion was finished, Martin surprised the audience by making a motion to provide $50,000 for 2006 out of the county’s general fund, as long as those funds were repaid over the next five years out of the state Conservation Trust Funds. Those state funds get distributed to counties from Colorado lottery proceeds. They can only be used for trails, open space and outdoors projects.Martin and McCown have insisted that the Conservation Trust Funds are the only county dollars they are willing to spend on trails.Martin said his proposal was a way to help local governments secure the $200,000 state grant for trail construction. Houpt supported his motion; McCown remained opposed.Hurdles remain for trailDale Will, head of the Pitkin County Trails and Open Space program, said the 4.2-mile project isn’t guaranteed, despite Garfield County’s help. Funding remains an issue.Garfield County’s 1.1-mile stretch of trail is estimated to cost about $390,000. Trail proponents only requested $50,000 because it was apparent nothing more would granted.Will said Pitkin County will reduce some of Garfield County’s costs by donating part of the old Maroon Creek pedestrian bridge for use over the Crystal River. In addition, the entire $200,000 state grant will be dedicated to that stretch, if it is awarded. Also, a private donor has pledged $50,000 to the trail project, Will said.Even with those funds, he figured he will have to find at least $50,000 more to complete the Garfield County stretch.In the bigger picture, the trail up the Crystal faces some level of opposition from valley residents. A petition was recently presented to the Garfield County Commissioners by Ray Pojman. It asks that the trail remain within the Highway 133 right of way the length of the valley. Preliminary designs call for it to occasionally stray to the opposite side of the Crystal River for engineering and financial reasons.Pojman said the petition was signed by about 150 people. He claimed he isn’t “anti-trail” even though he has multiple grievances against Pitkin County’s planning process.”We’re for a trail, but you’ve got to do it right,” he said.When Martin asked Will about the petition, Will noted that 74 percent of Crystal Caucus members expressed support for the trail in an earlier survey. He called the petition an odd maneuver by trail opponents.”We have a minority of people in Pitkin County who are seeking relief from Garfield County,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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