Rio Grande paving option emerges |

Rio Grande paving option emerges

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Aspen Times fileAbout two miles of the Rio Grande Trail, including the scenic section next to Stein Falls, would remain unpaved under a recommended option for the trail.

ASPEN – A plan to provide pavement along part of the unpaved stretch of the Rio Grande Trail outside Aspen and create a new, paved connection between the trail and the Aspen Business Center has emerged as the recommended option for dealing with the final gravel piece of the popular trail.

The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board of trustees will take up the recommendation – favored by open space staffers and a number of residents who responded to a survey – when it meets at 9 a.m. Thursday at Aspen City Hall.

Options for dealing with the four-mile stretch of the Rio Grande, the only gravel segment in what is otherwise a paved bike and pedestrian trail linking Aspen and Glenwood Springs (but for one short piece slated for paving), has been the focus of an extensive public-outreach process this year. The effort has included open houses, meetings with biking and equestrian groups, organized bike outings and an online survey.

The outcome, and the recommendation that comes from the Open Space and Trails board, will be discussed when the board meets with county commissioners on Dec. 18.

Four options were analyzed, though one was divided into alternatives A and B, essentially producing five different approaches to dealing with the gravel stretch between Stein Park below Aspen and a point upvalley from Woody Creek where the trail crosses McLain Flats Road.

Emerging as the alternative favored by the open space staff is option 4. It includes the creation of a dual surface (both pavement and packed gravel) between the McLain Flats crossing and the lower end of the Shale Bluffs canyon. Between that point and Stein Park, only a gravel surface would be retained through the narrow canyon corridor. Increased maintenance is, however, proposed for that two-mile stretch to provide a more compacted surface.

The paved route would split from the Rio Grande at the lower end of the canyon, and a new route bridging the Roaring Fork River gorge would be created, connecting to open space on the Highway 82 side of the river at roughly the downvalley end of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. A bridge, similar to the Tiehack pedestrian bridge over the Maroon Creek gorge, is envisioned for the river crossing. A paved trail would link to the Aspen Business Center, where an existing trail system provides a connection with town.

The estimated cost of option 4 was $5.9 million, but adding increased maintenance on the remaining gravel piece and building new connections at the business center bumps up the cost to an estimated $6.9 million to $7.4 million, according to a staff memo to the open space board.

The cost of the option generated protest from some people who participated in the public survey, though it wasn’t the most expensive alternative. Creating a full-width, dual-surface trail along the entire unpaved stretch was estimated at $22 million. It would require cantilevered sections of trail and retaining walls.

The least expensive alternative, making repairs to the existing soft surface, was estimated at $703,966. Other options called for keeping the gravel stretch and adding climbing lanes on both ends of McLain Flats Road to make it a safer option for road bicyclists, or creating a dual-surface trail where possible within the existing Rio Grande alignment.

Public comment on the alternatives varied widely, but there was support for a paved link to the Rio Grande from the business center to serve residents of that neighborhood.

“Right now, no way to ride from AABC/town to downvalley without going on Hwy. 82 death trap,” wrote one individual.

Others offered impassioned pleas to pave the remaining unpaved segment while others begged the county to maintain the natural feel of the gravel stretch and forgo paving. Bike speeds in the canyon were a concern for some opponents of paving the existing alignment.

According to a traffic counter on the trail just downvalley from Stein Park (on the unpaved stretch), an average of 640 users per day were on the trail in July. The average in January was 35 users per day.

That means the existing soft-surface segment of the trail is the county’s most popular open space asset, the staff memo noted.

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