A win-win trail in Crystal River Valley
We have a unique opportunity for getting folks out of their vehicles and safely walking or biking within the valley of the Crystal River. There has been much debate over two proposed alignments to achieve this. Alignment “A” is in the CDOT right-of-way of Highway 133 and alignment “B” is mostly east of the Crystal River. There are some segments of each alignment that seem like a preferred choice and some combination of the two alignments would allow the final trail to be environmentally sensitive and help contain costs.
We believe that using a total “A” alignment is a poor overall choice: (1) Users moving near the highway would be subjected to considerable fumes and noise, (2) In the winter, this alignment would allow surface runoff and subsurface flow of dirty water and oils towards the river, (3) Sometimes complicated engineering, including cantilevered structures, would be required and would disrupt traffic for long periods. When finished, the trail would have the undesirable appearance of an urban bike path, and (4) We think that option A with its estimated cost of over $100 million should take this option out of the running by cost alone.
There are some who argue that alignment “B” would adversely affect the health of wildlife to such a degree that this alignment is unacceptable. With due respect to such voices, we note: (1) There are some 100 homes on the east side of the Crystal River, which, by wildlife advocate Rick Thompson’s arguments, would be within the same zone of disturbance as trail alignment “B.” These homeowners, who also respect wildlife, have obviously found ways to live in harmony with wildlife. (2) We believe that Open Space and Trails (OST) will work to have chosen segments of the “B” alignment have only small impacts on wildlife. Research results showing low impacts on wildlife caused by the presence of the Rio Grande Trail strongly support this view. Winter closures and enforcement against improper use are key. (3) To the east of the proposed “B” alignment are vast BLM, U.S. Forest Service, and wilderness areas, which are laced with streams, wetlands, and other habitat for healthy wildlife. These areas are a huge buffer zone for any impacts near the Crystal River, and (4) Our animal life suffers far more from the impacts of traffic on Highway 133 than remotely possible from use of a ped/bike trail with a “B” alignment.
We feel that the final trail alignment should heavily use the “B” option because: (1) Being removed from much traffic, this would offer a beautiful way to experience the valley of the Crystal River, (2) The existing rail bed and wagon road would greatly lessen required engineering and would occupy already disturbed soils, (3) The estimated cost of this option is “only” $20-25 million. There may be ways to significantly reduce this amount. The Pitkin Board of County Commissioners working with the OST Board will consider all the comments provided and select the most appropriate trail.
We thank the Pitkin County OST staff for having done much impressive work to bring this project for all to consider. We know that this work is just a start and are confident that this group will excel in moving this project to completion.
John Hoffmann, Bill Spence and Peter Westcott