GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A stalled attempt to complete the South Canyon trail connection as part of the larger Lower Valley (LoVa) Trail project could be “dead in the water” unless Garfield County jumps back on board to help fund the effort, trail supporters say.
LoVa representatives were before the county commissioners Monday looking for direction after the commissioners decided to eliminate funding for the project as part of the 2013 budget.
The county had previously agreed to commit $1.8 million toward the estimated $4.4 million cost to finish the paved trail link, connecting two existing short trail sections alongside Interstate 70 and the Colorado River between West Glenwood and the South Canyon turnoff.
Those segments were done in 2009 and 2011, at a total cost of about $1.6 million, using a mix of local and state funding, including $420,000 from the county and $382,000 from the city of Glenwood Springs.
Following the denial of a $1.5 million Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant proposal last year that would have covered about a third of the cost to complete the remaining 1.8-mile trail section, the commissioners decided to redirect their priority for trails funding elsewhere in the county.
Specifically, at the urging of Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, attention was shifted to helping plan for and eventually construct a trail link north of Carbondale alongside County Road 107 to the popular Red Hill area.
“When it comes to priorities for trails, Red Hill is number one right now,” Jankovsky said during the Monday meeting. “It is a safety concern with the number of bikes and dogs and people going up that road.”
“Trails are extremely important, but we need to be careful with our priorities,” Jankovsky said.
But that leaves the unfinished South Canyon trail in limbo, said Larry Dragon, director of the LoVa group.
Without the county, “we stand to lose a lot of money that has already been committed to this project,” Dragon said, referring to more than $1 million in funding commitments from Glenwood Springs, the town of New Castle and the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Jeanne Golay, a former Olympic cyclist from Glenwood Springs who was one of the founders of the LoVa group 10 years ago, expressed disappointment after the meeting Monday.
“The taxpayers should be outraged that we now have a trail out there that’s not going to go anywhere,” she said. “A lot of people have supported this, with the belief that we were going to have a trail there.”
Eventually, LoVa envisions a paved trail running along the Colorado River/I-70 corridor from Glenwood Springs to Parachute, and possibly into Mesa County.
Another co-founder of the LoVa group, Tod Tibbetts of Silt, said it will be hard to build support for outside grant funding without the county on board.
“It really puts our credibility, and our ability to put the remainder of the funding together, at risk,” Tibbetts said.
Dragon said the county also jeopardized the project last fall when it decided to back a state Parks and Trails grant proposal for Red Hill instead of LoVa.
He said new grant opportunities are being explored, both this year and looking ahead to 2014. Without a commitment from the county, it will be hard to make a case for additional grants, he said.
New Castle Trustee Greg Russi said the South Canyon trail remains a top priority for his community, as the first phase of an eventual trail link between New Castle and Glenwood Springs.
“This is important not only for recreational purposes, but for economic development,” Russi said. “It is a high priority for us, and we would appreciate county support.”
Jankovsky said any extra funding for trails in the next two years will be unlikely, given the expected decline in county property tax revenues with the drop in the assessed property valuation this year.
“We’re going into a two-hear period where capital projects are going to be cut back significantly,” Jankovsky said, adding that Glenwood Springs may need to become the lead government agency on the LoVa project.
Trail development and maintenance is on the agenda for a join work session with Glenwood Springs City Council starting at 11:30 a.m. today, in the commissioners meeting room at the county administration building.
The commissioners are also scheduled to have a work session later today with the Carbondale Board of Trustees, at which Red Hill and the county’s policy toward trails in general are expected to be discussed.