RFTA seeks public input about trail management | AspenTimes.com

RFTA seeks public input about trail management

A proposed wildlife management plan for a controversial stretch of the Rio Grande Trail between Rock Bottom Ranch and Catherine Store Bridge will be opened to public scrutiny Wednesday night.The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority will hold a meeting at Carbondale Town Hall from 7 to 9 p.m. to collect comments on a plan to minimize the trail’s impacts on wildlife. A summary of the comments will be forwarded to RFTA’s board of directors when they review the plan in October.RFTA is adding a 4-mile stretch of the Rio Grande Trail from Hooks Road in the Emma area to Catherine Store Bridge. Trail proponents are excited because that stretch will complete the route between Aspen and Carbondale. RFTA has a goal to complete a valleywide trail to Glenwood Springs by 2010.But about half of the new stretch has been the focus of intense debate this summer. Some environmentalists and residents who live across the Roaring Fork River from the trail claim it will have too great an impact on deer, elk and other critters that use the old rail corridor, which has been abandoned for years. Trail proponents contend the impacts can be minimized or offset.RFTA introduced science to the debate last month by releasing a report by consultant and wildlife biologist Jonathan Lowsky. He recommended prohibiting dogs year-round and closing the trail from Nov. 15 to March 15 for the benefit of deer, elk and other animals. A copy of Lowsky’s entire plan can be downloaded at RFTA’s web site, http://www.rfta.com.RFTA officials insist the debate isn’t over construction of the trail, just how it’s managed. Residents of the Flying Fish neighborhood, across the river, aren’t giving up the fight to stop construction. They have lawyered up, as the saying goes, to explore if wildlife impacts were adequately studied and proper approvals acquired, according to Jim Duke, a vocal critic of the trail. The two attorneys for the Flying Fish Road folks will demand this week that RFTA stop work on the trail until the issues are investigated, Duke said.RFTA chief executive officer Dan Blankenship said work won’t stop “unless there is a legal order to cease and desist.”Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.

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