Rio Grande Trail faces midvalley overhaul |

Rio Grande Trail faces midvalley overhaul

Scott Condon
Basalt resident Luke Murphy rides down the old railroad bed as a pair of cyclists passes behind him on a curved portion of the Rio Grande Trail. Much of the trail will undergo improvements this year. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

The Rio Grande Trail will be overhauled this fall as the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program tries to deal with growing and sometimes competing demands.

This year was dubbed “the year of the trail” because of the undertaking of so many improvement projects, according to Keith Berglund, a ranger and naturalist with the open space and trails department.A two-mile section between Old Snowmass and the junction of the Basalt and Rio Grande trails will be converted from curvy and hilly to straight and flat. The trail will be realigned to the raised railbed to avoid two “dangerous” dips and blind curves, Berglund said.Along some parts of the Rio Grande between Aspen and Emma the trail was built on the railbed. In other places, it’s built within the rail corridor but not on the bed.The open space and trails department has received comments from trail users for years about accidents and close calls in that section, according to Berglund.For some cyclists, that stretch is a highlight of the trail because it offers a break from the straight, flat route. It is hazardous for others, according to Berglund.

The realignment was scheduled this year for a couple of reasons – first, the asphalt on the original trail is wearing out and must be dealt with, and second, the rails are getting torn off the bed. The salvage job provides a good opportunity to build a trail on the bed.The old trail alignment will be preserved. The asphalt will be ripped up and shredded, and either a dirt route will remain or it will be covered with gravel, Berglund said. Walkers, equestrians and mountain bikers can use that route.Berglund said that section of trail experiences heavy use because there is no alternative route, like a county road. Therefore it sees everything from cyclists whisking through on road bikes and equestrians to inline skaters and people pushing baby carriages. Each group probably has its own preferences for the trail.”There is no perfect trail out there, particularly when you get multiple use,” he said. His advice to all users is to prepare to encounter someone using the trail in a different way.A second major project will alter the surface of the Rio Grande Trail section that runs through the Roaring Fork Club, past Basalt High School and into Emma. Currently, small gravel covers the 4-mile stretch completely. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails will put an 8-foot wide swath of pavement along the entire length and provide a soft surface of between 4 and 6 feet, with a couple of spots pinched to 2 feet, Berglund said.

Work on that stretch from Wingo to Emma is under way. The section from Wingo to Basalt High School will be closed for the next three weeks, until about Sept. 11. The surface will be paved later in the fall, and all work should be complete by mid-November, Berglund said.RFTA is working independently on another midvalley section of trail. It will pave about 4 miles of the Rio Grande between Hooks Lane and the Catherine Bridge, which means there will be a trail from Aspen to Carbondale by this fall.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is