Watch for heavenly bodies along the Rio Grande Trail

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Traveling the Rio Grande Trail between Aspen and Woody Creek will soon be a celestial adventure, thanks to the Aspen High School Astronomy Club.

Club members won the go-ahead Thursday to place a series of interpretive signs along the trail, creating a scale model of the solar system. Installation of the signs is expected to begin in June.

The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board of trustees endorsed the proposal, which prompted the drafting of a written policy regarding placement of interpretive and educational material on trails and open space managed by the county.

“We don’t want to open the floodgates to everyone who wants to come decorate the open space,” said Dale Will, open space director. “On the other hand, we like educational use of our property. This one is interesting because it’s right in the middle – it’s a little more of a reach from the Rio Grande to Pluto than talking about elk or something.”

Members of the club drafted the language that appears on the signs, which will be placed along the 7.8-mile stretch of trail at distances representing the scale of the solar system. The actual distance from the sun to Pluto is 3.67 billion miles, according to club adviser Travis Moore.

In addition, the planets will be represented in scale size, with the exception of the sun, which would require an orb of more than 9 feet in diameter. At some point in the future, the club might undertake an effort to embed an emblem of that size, representing the sun, into the trail pavement itself, Moore said.

Club representatives showed the board, which met at Aspen High School, a sample of one of the signs. They cost about $40 apiece to manufacture and should last three years. They could be replaced with similar versions, or more permanent ones, if the community likes the concept, said club member Leighanne Jenkins. The club will fund the project.

“We kind of wanted to do this as a test run,” she said. “It would make our trail really unique.”

“We’re putting our voice out there,” added member Tayler Quist. “We’re all very passionate about astronomy.”

While the solar system isn’t directly related to the Rio Grande Trail, trail users are on one of the planets to be represented, noted club member Cole Pazar.

“It does give you the perspective of the solar system in which you live,” he said.

Placement of the signs will put the sun near the post office trailhead, while Pluto will be in Woody Creek. The sign for Pluto, which has been “demoted” as a planet in the eyes of the International Astronomical Union, will explain its status, but the distant planet won’t be left out.