Ride the Rockies will ride the trail
PITKIN COUNTY Pitkin County commissioners gave the go-ahead Tuesday for more than 2,000 cyclists to ride the Rio Grande Trail for the Ride the Rockies event June 21.Last week, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority approved use of a downvalley section of trail from Carbondale to Emma, and Ride the Rockies planners asked commissioners to approve use of paved trails in Pitkin County from Emma through Snowmass Canyon as far as Lower River Road.The June 21 ride ends at the Aspen High School, and the following day riders will leave Aspen for Leadville. The last time the 422-mile tour came through Aspen was 1986.The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board unanimously opposed granting use of the trail, citing concerns about safety and exclusive use of county lands for a commercial event.Commissioners also expressed concerns about the number of riders, including “ghost riders” who tag along with the registered pack of 2,000, and worried they’d have to close the trail for the all-day event. Some opposed closing trails that are for the public, not for exclusive use by a “for-profit” event.But area law enforcement officials spoke in favor of using the trail, saying it would be the safest option.Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson said it was best to get riders off Highway 82 where “the risk is unacceptable” and said he had assurances from Ride the Rockies officials they would make every concession to keep the route safe.Tom Grady, director of operations for the Pitkin County sheriff’s office, said performance riders would likely ride Highway 82, and that nothing would stop other riders from using the trail if they chose.”So what the hell,” joked Commissioner Patti Clapper. If riders could go where they pleased, why not just give them trail access, she said. But Clapper expressed concerns about liability if riders were granted a permit to use the public trail.”Certainly we’re not going to go out and stop someone from using a trail,” Commissioner Michael Owsley said, adding the debate was over granting permission for Ride the Rockies planners to send the pack along the 8 foot wide track.John Wilkinson, a Snowmass town councilman and avid cyclist, said allowing the ride would not only be a safer than sending riders onto Highway 82 in morning traffic, but would be a way to encourage a “green visit to the Roaring Fork Valley.”Wilkinson stressed riders will be spread out along the route, and that more competitive riders in packs would stick to Highway 82 anyway.”It’s not compatible with the way we want to manage our trails,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield, who believes it is important to listen to recommendations from Open Space and Trails.”We’re acting out of a lot of fear,” said Rachel Richards. The one-time event would be a free opportunity to showcase the valley trails, and she called for “a little faith” in event planners who pledged to take steps to keep the event safe.By majority, commissioners agreed to allow riders to follow the trail June 21, but asked for a list of concessions, including public service announcements on radio and television about the ride, signs on the trail warning regular users of the trail the riders would be making their way upvalley and race marshals and police assistance along the route.”We’ll add as many layers of requirements we can put on it to make it a safe event,” Owsley said.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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