Safety concerns may halt plan for Hunter Creek Trail
July 26, 2012
ASPEN – Extension of Aspen’s Hunter Creek Trail hit a stumbling block Wednesday when Pitkin County commissioners asked for a delay in the start of construction while they mull safety concerns and other issues raised by area residents.
The joint project, to be constructed by a city of Aspen parks crew on an easement the county holds, is to connect two popular local amenities – the paved Rio Grande Trail and the dirt hiking trail that leads into the Hunter Creek Valley, northeast of town.
The gravel trail must, however, cross Red Mountain Road, and safety concerns brought a trio of Red Mountain-area residents to the commissioners’ meeting Wednesday. They urged the officials to hold off on construction and rethink the plan.
The at-grade crossing will be uphill from the bridge that carries Hunter Creek beneath Red Mountain Road. The road slopes steeply in that area, and residents predicted that blind curves combined with motorists traveling downhill at more than the posted speed limit could spell tragedy for a trail user on the road.
“I’m afraid it’s an invitation to a terrible disaster,” Marc Friedberg said.
No amount of signs directed at either trail users or motorists will be adequate, Junee Kirk predicted.
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Marc Zachary predicted that vehicles stopped for trail users would be rear-ended by other vehicles coming behind them.
The residents also described the Hunter Creek corridor as one used regularly by bears and other wildlife and decried the amount of vegetation that would have to be cut to clear a path for the trail extension.
Later in the day, commissioners agreed to another site visit to the area. Commissioner Rachel Richards, a resident of the Hunter Creek neighborhood, recused herself from the discussion.
“This is about a double, triple and quadruple check of safety,” Commissioner Rob Ittner said. “I just think it’s worth taking a deeper look at it.”
The city crew was mobilizing to begin construction, according to Austin Weiss, trails coordinator. If the project is delayed by more than a couple of weeks, construction won’t happen this summer, he said.
In addition to trail construction, a new pedestrian/bike bridge over Hunter Creek is necessary.
The extension will be a 4-foot-wide gravel path linking into the existing Hunter Creek Trail near the Hunter Longhouse housing. The planned new bridge will take the trail north across Hunter Creek; it will then follow the creek as it meanders west, crossing Red Mountain Road and intersecting with the Rio Grande Trail near Hunter Creek’s confluence with the Roaring Fork River, not far from the Rio Grande trailhead near the post office.
For those unfamiliar with the maze that is Aspen’s dense east-end neighborhood, the new Hunter Creek trailhead on the Rio Grande would presumably be much easier to find, but Commissioner Jack Hatfield urged his colleagues to consider alternatives that avoid the Red Mountain crossing and the removal of vegetation.
For the road crossing, a 2-inch raised trail platform of a different color from the pavement was designed, along with flashing lights that trail users could activate to warn motorists of people in the crossing. The trail is to climb sharply up to the road from both approaches, and bollards would be placed on the trail for an added measure of safety, along with stop signs directed at trail users. It would be difficult for a bicyclist on the trail to shoot out onto the road without slowing, according to open space officials.
“This is, for an at-grade crossing, about as well as we’re able to engineer,” said Dale Will, county open space and trails director.
The trail extension makes use of easements granted to the county by both the Willoughby Pond Estates and Rubey subdivisions. The $250,000 budget for construction is to be paid with private funds provided specifically for the trail project in return for an extension of vested rights for the Rubey subdivision.