Starwood pays to reroute trail
A short stretch of one of Aspen’s most popular hiking and mountain biking trails is being rerouted to get it off private land.
The U.S. Forest Service and homeowners in the exclusive Starwood subdivision west of town are working together to relocate a portion of the Sunnyside Trail descent.
The stretch being rerouted is between a driveway and the Salvation Ditch, according to Andy Steele, who’s helping supervise the work for the Aspen Ranger District. The new section will be moved about 600 feet east of the existing trail, he said.
Although work is currently under way, the new trail section probably won’t be opened for use until next year.
The rerouted trail will be located mostly on federal property and it will no longer cross the driveway that leads to a Starwood mansion. The new stretch “will be a little longer,” with five switchbacks rather than one so the pitch will be eased, Steele noted.
David Hamilton of Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, a trails and environmental group, is heading the construction crew. Starwood homeowners are footing the bill for all the work.
Steele estimated that design and engineering cost about $12,000; construction will cost up to $20,000; and legal fees will drive the total cost to near $50,000.
Bikers cross fingers
Mountain bikers are keeping their fingers crossed that the trail work won’t harm the Sunnyside experience.
Two riders informally polled said they don’t think that stretch is long enough to drastically alter the experience. Steele said he didn’t know off the top of his head exactly how long the stretch is that’s affected, although it probably takes “just a couple of minutes” of riding for a cyclist heading downhill.
Another rider raised concerns that a perfectly good trail was being altered for no pressing reason. The trail has gone through Starwood for years.
Michael Wampler, owner of Aspen Velo Bicycles, said the work as described to him by The Aspen Times sounded “OK.” The Forest Service does a good job on trails around Aspen, he said.
“It is amusing to me that everybody wants us off their property,” Wampler said, referring to homeowners who live near trails.
Cyclist John Wilkinson, who helps with a lot of local trail work, is cautiously optimistic about the Sunnyside work. He said he occasionally rides up Sunnyside from McLain Flats Road, a challenging feat on a couple of stretches.
If the rerouted portion is built with improved drainage and with a more sustainable grade, it could provide a better experience than the existing route, he said.
Many trails in the forest surrounding Aspen were built for horses, so steepness and degradation weren’t prime issues. With the explosion of mountain biking over the last 15 years, they’ve become major issues, he noted.
“My thinking has been to make trails ridable in both directions,” said Wilkinson. “Take some of the contour out of it to make it more climbable, I’m all for it.”
Won’t open this summer
Steele said he believes the realignment will prove advantageous for Starwood homeowners and trail users. Starwood will achieve its goal of getting virtually all of the trail off of its property. Trail users will have what he considers a better trail.
“The views are probably more enjoyable,” said Steele. “You’ll have more time to look around.”
However, he noted it’s difficult to gauge how cyclists will react. The Forest Service has received complaints about work on trails before. Complaints were raised, for example, that work on the Government Trail a few years ago “made it too easy,” Steele said.
Bikers probably won’t have get a chance to gauge the work until next year. Although most construction will be finished later this month, legal formalities such as conveyance of an easement from Starwood to the Forest Service won’t be completed for up to six months.
Until all the work is finished, Hamilton’s crew won’t tie the new trail in to the old one. Once the connection is completed, the old trail will be rehabilitated.
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