Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Big news last week was that a local family won a court case against the federal government. No, it wasn’t mom and-pop drug dealers vs. the DEA. The ruling I refer to says that a traditional Aspen nuclear family must be compensated (richly) for land they own that is currently a section of our popular Rio Grande Trail that could have been their multi-million-dollar riverfront “fishing palaces” (their term, not mine) to sell at the peak of the real estate frenzy.

The courts basically said that Pitkin County illegally took over the right of way that rightfully reverted back to the landowners when the railroads abandoned it. Of course, what everyone wants to know is whether this snafu is going to cost us more than buying the lumber yard for $18 million did. The answer is “yes, a lot more.”

It appears that our only hope is to bend over and plug in the auxiliary printing press to pay for our thievery, no matter how well intentioned it was. However, there is an overlooked alternative that won’t cost even one locomotive-flattened penny: Give the right of way back. That’s right! We rip out the bike path and give the land underneath back to the rightful owners. Done!

This amenity has been around for so long that we absentmindedly lace up the Nikes and take off running down it to lose ourselves on sunrise jogs with the dogs in self-absorbed thoughts and daydreams while we selfishly pursue the Aspen Idea of the perfect bod. As a result, when was the last time this community had a serious discussion about the Rio Grande Trail?

The path was converted from rail to trail in the early 1980s. As is obvious to everyone, things have changed since then. Most notably, as the working population has been forced downvalley the bike path has become a regular route for bike commuters. This unprecedented use was never contemplated by anyone! When the idea for it was conceived, the trail was intended solely for recreational purposes.

With new employee housing projects like W/J Ranch and North Forty at the Aspen Business Center, Rio Grande Trail has its own rush hour twice every day, jammed with people riding their bikes to and from work (some runners and walkers, too). I shudder to think what will happen when the Burlingame employee housing project is completed. I am not sure that most people understand that those residents will have access to the path, too.

It’s not like a pleasant stroll down the path at peak pedestrian traffic hours can be had anymore. The river, even in this year of huge runoff, can barley be heard above the din from squeaky bicycles and chatty riders and runners, oftentimes talking about work. Remember, too, that even dogs on leashes occasionally bark. Worse, skinny people exercising in stinky Lycra have started to attract mountain lions to the area. This is insane! The Rio Grande Trail is past its prime.

If we think about this logically instead of emotionally, as we usually do with things concerning the beauty of nature, the serenity of a walk along the river, etc., etc., it makes complete sense that bicycle commuters, walkers and joggers should be required to use the bike path that runs along Highway 82 and across the Maroon Creek bridge just like their counterparts commuting in cars.

While there are far too many people employing green methods of commuting to work these days, there are certainly not so many that we need to provide redundant and alternative routes to work for them. Even if there was, it would make far more sense to “four-lane” the bike path that runs along Highway 82 than to continue maintaining multiple routes to and from the same places. Think about it: If you live at the Burlingame or North Forty neighborhoods, you have two separate dedicated bike routes into town: the Rio Grande or the regular path along Highway 82. If you live in Snowmass Village you have four choices, including Government Trail, Owl Creek Trail, Droste Trail, and Brush Creek Trail, which connects with, you guessed it, Rio Grande Trail. Absolutely ridiculous!

Furthermore, it’s not like there is a shortage of bicycle riders and pedestrians in town already so that we ought to encourage more. Most appear not to be aware of the rules of the road, common sense, or courtesy. They create a serious hazard for people in cars who have real work to attend to.

Why is it that we do everything in our power to discourage automobile traffic in this town only to turn the blind eye and have bikes and pedestrians backfill the hard-won void in downtown street congestion? Before we know it this place is going to look like downtown Shanghai.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not have anything against cyclists and pedestrians. It’s just that I don’t think they deserve preferential treatment. Now, the courts have given us the incentive to save a pile of money by leveling the commuting path, so to speak.


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