Carbondale looks to dress up Rio Grande Trail
An ongoing effort to beautify the old Rio Grande railroad corridor through Carbondale is gaining momentum, with a master plan recently made available for public comment.
Dubbed the ARTway, the project is a cooperative effort between the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities – soon to be just Carbondale Arts – and the Carbondale Public Arts Commission. Some improvements have already been made, while others await money or community interest, so RFTA trails and corridor manager Brett Meredith thought it was time to go to the public.
“The section through town has kind of been neglected over the years, and it’s ripe for beautification,” he told a packed meeting at the Carbondale Town Hall last week. “This is what we’ve been dreaming about and now it’s time to get feedback and support.”
The corridor is currently occupied by the Rio Grande bike trail as part of RFTA’s efforts to preserve the right of way for potential future rail use. It has otherwise hosted mostly haphazard and makeshift improvements, particularly adjacent to neighborhoods.
Meredith’s vision would transform the corridor into “a linear park with nodes of activity interspersed” through the mile-long section between Highway 133 and Snowmass Avenue. The stretch was used more than 85,000 times last year. With a grant-supported soft surface trail slated for construction in late fall, that figure will likely only grow.
“The idea is we can focus on little projects and not bite off more than we can chew,” Meredith explained after the meeting. “It all depends on the availability of resources – time, energy, funding.”
Perhaps the most ambitious element would be an entry portal to greet visitors from in the extra wide section of the corridor against the highway. Crowned by an arch made of bicycle parts, it would lead into a “roll zone” that might also include some beginner mountain biking paths.
“We’ve got some topography to play with, so I think that would be really cool,” Meredith said.
“Stroll zones” would be a little more contemplative, and he also envisions an area geared toward youth behind the Town Hall at Fourth Street.
“I really want kids to have an area to play,” he said.
Nearby would be the “Ol’ Zone”– which would take advantage of some historic artifacts to teach passerby about the history of the railroad corridor.
“It was the backbone of the valley’s transportation for a long time,” Meredith said.“I think it would be a disservice if we didn’t remember that in some way.
“In the old days, everybody wanted to front the railroad,” he added. “Over time, people started turning away from it. It’s an interesting challenge to try to turn them around again.”
The eastern portal at Snowmass and Main Street likely won’t require a lot of attention.
“The town has done a good job,” Meredith said. “It’s already a nice entrance to town.”
Improvements are already visible in other spots. The fence along RFTA’s office on Industry Place has been planted with hops along with fresh dirt and native seed throughout, and some more native plants have been added at the intersection with Eighth Street. Nearby, a set of paintings from last year’s 24 Hours of Art gives a hint at the vision that gives the project its name.
“My idea was just to kinda beautify with landscaping, and CCAH took it took the next level,” Meredith said.
Fueled by a Creative District grant, CCAH is already working on enhanced signs to draw bikers into town, but for CCAH Director Amy Kimberly, that’s just the start.
“I saw an opportunity for us to be able to engage in giving a sense of place through art,” she said. “It’s our version of the Highline. Now that RFTA really seems committed to it, it feels like the project’s going to take off.”
She’s already helped commission a bench through a local artist instead of a national supplier, and is working with the Valley Settlement Project on a space for Latino folk art. Other ideas, like a youth art park, will likely take a grant or other partner to fund.
Also, in addition to some permanent art pieces already in place, CPAC is working on obtaining bases for five to seven new sculptures. According to staff liaison Laurie Lindberg, it would likely be a mix of rotating and permanent pieces and would most likely debut next year.
Meredith’s primary concern at the moment is public support.
“I particularly want to meet the folks that neighbor the corridor so we can collaborate and help each other out,” he said.
Among concerns voiced at the meeting were lighting for the trail – which Meredith said warrants further discussion – and potentially expanding the improvements along the back side of Dolores Way.
“It’s an up-and-coming neighborhood and we’d love to have it part of the trail, but we’ve got a lot of cleaning up to do before we can make it part of the ARTway,” Meredith said.
Overall, though, the mood of the meeting seemed to bode well for the project’s future.
“People are noticing,” Meredith said. “I think they’ve generally been supportive and excited.”