Wheels turning on Crystal Trail near Carbondale

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE ” The first leg of the Crystal Bike Trail south of Carbondale is a big step closer to construction this summer.

The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board, meeting Thursday in Carbondale, voted to recommend county commissioners appropriate the necessary funds to help build 5.3 miles of trail along Highway 133 in the Crystal River Valley. Commissioners are expected to take up the expenditure on June 2.

The low bid for the portion of the trail in Pitkin and Garfield counties was $2.5 million, from Heyl Construction of New Castle. The bid for the Carbondale piece of the trail, between Meadowood Drive and Prince Creek Road, was $200,000, also from Heyl.

The first leg of a bike path that officials hope will one day stretch from Carbondale to the top of McClure Pass and beyond will be constructed from Carbondale to the Seven Oaks bridge, located at the BRB Crystal River Resort.

The project needs the funding go-ahead from both Pitkin County commissioners and Carbondale trustees, as well as a permit from the Colorado Department of Transportation, as much of the trail will be built in the Highway 133 right of way.

A bike path separate from the highway has long been a goal of trail advocates. The scenic valley is a popular, but somewhat dicey bicycling spot, as the winding road has no shoulders and vehicles travel at high speeds.

The 8-foot-wide paved trail, with 4 additional feet of soft surface where there’s room, will be built on the east side of the highway, between the road and the river. Officials hope to see construction start by mid-June and wrap up in late fall, said Dale Will, director of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Program.

The Pitkin/Garfield piece ” Prince Creek Road to the BRB ” was bid at $2.5 million, but will cost an estimated $2.8 million when contingency and construction management costs are added in. Garfield County will kick in $200,000 and a $50,000 gift from the Jelinek family will also go toward the Garfield County piece. Pitkin County will use its Open Space and Trails funds for its share.

Carbondale, in addition to the Meadowood-to-Prince Creek segment, is planning a trail link between Snowmass Drive and Meadowood Drive ” a piece that was not part of the Heyl bid.

To fund its two pieces of the trail, Carbondale has $198,000 from two grants, plus $135,000 in already-earmarked town funds. Trustees will be asked Tuesday to allocate another $60,000 toward construction.

A partnership with Cold Mountain Ranch along the route, where Pitkin County recently purchased a conservation easement, will facilitate the trail’s construction, according to Will. A ditch on the ranch will be piped, and the trail placed over it on the ranch property.

Future extension of the trail southward to Redstone will be more challenging, requiring use of highway right of way and, potentially, pieces of a former railroad corridor in the valley, Will said.

“We’re going to get this five miles done, then catch our breath and decide what needs to be done,” Will said. “It’s taken at least two years longer than we thought it would to build the easy part.”

Beyond Redstone, roughly at Hays Creek Falls, the old road right of way still exists on the west side of the present highway, extending most of the way to McClure Pass except for one short stretch where the bike trail would have to rejoin Highway 133. The old road corridor ” all on public land ” could make that stretch fairly easy to tackle, Will said.

“We may do that one second and skip the hard part,” he said.

On the far side of the pass, Gunnison County is at work on plans that could one day result in a bike path stretching from Carbondale to Crested Butte.