Rio Grande to reopen this week |

Rio Grande to reopen this week

Bikers cross paths with construction Tuesday afternoon on the Rio Grande Trail. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

Aspen’s most popular trail is almost ready to reopen, though the project that has shut it down for months won’t yet be complete.The Rio Grande Trail has been closed this summer as crews replaced sewer lines and widened the path, but it will open again Thursday evening. The trail will be unpaved for now. It was supposed to be resurfaced by June 30, but complications have pushed back the date. Grading of the trail will take place next week.

The $750,000 in improvements, funded by Pitkin County and the city of Aspen, will widen the trail from eight feet to 20 feet. The improved part of the trail runs from Rio Grande Park to Cemetery Lane. “In the summer we have had over 500 users a day on that trail,” said Gary Tennenbaum, land steward for Pitkin County open space. “There were multiple sections of that trail that posed serious safety hazards. We even got calls from doctors at Aspen Valley Hospital. We had a lot of broken collarbones and other injuries.”So the city and county decided to widen the paved section from 8 feet to 10, and add a 1-foot shoulder and 4 to 6 unpaved feet for runners. In addition to that, there will be another 4-foot, graded, grassy area so there will still be a cross-country skiing track if the Rio Grande is plowed in the winter. “There are a couple of sections where it will change the feel of the trail,” said Austin Weiss, trails coordinator for the city. “What you see today is different from what it will be when the restoration is finished. Much of the trail required no widening. I don’t think the feel of the trail will change dramatically.”

The construction delays the result of complications from laying a new sewer line for the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District. “We were at the mercy of that project,” Weiss said. “We saw it as an opportunity to make some improvements of the trail. Basically, those improvements will handle the large capacity of the trail and make it a safer trail experience for everyone involved.”The sewer line has already been replaced from the water treatment plant up to Cemetery Lane. Doing the two projects at the same time has reduced the cost because the same contractor, Gould Construction, is working on both projects and the Sanitation District has agreed to pay for revegetation.Unfortunately, that means the Rio Grande Trail is going to look like a construction site for the rest of the summer.

“There’s no irrigation down there,” Weiss said. “In the fall we’ll do dormant seeding. It wouldn’t make sense to do any restoration until the fall.”The paving project likely won’t begin until Labor Day just so the trail can actually get some usage this summer. Both Weiss and Tennenbaum said they would just like to get the trail open as soon as possible. “I think people will be thrilled with the end product,” Tennenbaum said. “Runners will be happy with the soft surface trail. Having it paved allows for bicycles. We’ll be able to accommodate more different uses.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is

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