Agencies ramp up push for LoVa Trail work | PostIndependent.com

Agencies ramp up push for LoVa Trail work

Ryan Hoffman
rhoffman@citizentelegram.com

Momentum is building for a stretch of the long-envisioned Lower Valley Trail between Glenwood Springs and New Castle, where town officials see the connection to existing upper-valley trails as a crucial economic development project.

"It's viewed as public health, recreation, but in large part the [Town Council's] attention is on economic development," Tom Baker, New Castle town administrator, said of the trail, called LoVa.

Although it will likely be some time before construction on new segments of LoVa begin, New Castle is engineering and designing one section of trail to Canyon Creek and pursuing money to design the other stretch leading to South Canyon.

On the opposite end, a segment from West Glenwood to South Canyon remains a priority among city leaders, although a recent federal funding request was rejected.

"There's been some downs, but things seem to be progressing now (at a rate) unmatched during the 12 years I've been involved," said Larry Dragon, executive director of the LoVa Trails group.

The downs, referenced by Dragon, followed peaks of optimism since the LoVa Trail — a 47-mile nonmotorized trail running from Glenwood to the Garfield County line west of Parachute, effectively connecting municipalities along the Colorado River — became a topic of discussion in the late '90s.

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While the general idea has support from some community leaders and residents, roadblocks, mostly related to money, have prevented the trail from extending west of Glenwood Springs.

Despite the lack of large-scale progress to date, the LoVa Trail received statewide recognition in January when Gov. John Hickenlooper named it one of the highest priority trail projects in the entire state through his "16 in 2016" initiative.

That effort aims to build coordination on trail projects that would improve outdoor recreation, spur economic development and provide safe routes for alternative transportation.

Although the governor's initiative does not include money, it does offer LoVa and other identified projects a prominent standing when applying for grants.

A critical section

Years before the governor ever announced "16 in 2016," New Castle identified the connection to Glenwood Springs as a project with large economic development opportunities.

"The impetus for New Castle's efforts started well before the governor's [16 in 2016] effort," said Greg Russi, a former New Castle councilor and current special projects director. "New Castle determined several years ago that it had a lot to offer the bikers and trail users in the county, and expansion of the [LoVa Trail[ to New Castle is an important part of that."

New Castle recently submitted an application for a $175,100 Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation to begin designing a 2.4-mile stretch of trail between Canyon Creek and South Canyon. The town expects to learn if its application is successful in early October, according to Russi.

If the TAP grant application is approved, it would build on engineering already underway for a roughly 4.1-mile stretch of trail between New Castle and Canyon Creek. That work was made possible by a $65,000 grant awarded by Colorado Parks and Wildlife earlier this year, which New Castle matched with approximately $20,000.

Russi said the design and engineering work should be completed this winter, making the stretch of trail "shovel ready" in 2017.

Although momentum from the New Castle end is trending positively, Glenwood Springs received disappointing news recently when it learned that a funding request through the Federal Lands Access Program was rejected.

The request included planning and construction money for the LoVa Trail between West Glenwood and South Canyon, a project with a total cost north of $10 million, according to Terri Partch, Glenwood Springs city engineer. The portion of trail to South Canyon remains a priority for the city.

"We think it's a very important part of our infrastructure," she said.

Partch intends to budget some design money in the 2017 budget, and City Council has identified the trail as a priority for its Federal Mineral Lease District grant applications.

"We see it as a big benefit for future biking and access into South Canyon and to New Castle as well," Partch said.

Construction will be costly

Most of the current efforts focus on design and engineering.

There is still the matter of construction. Planning will need to be completed before approximate construction cost estimates are known.

For example, the cost of the trail between New Castle and Canyon Creek could vary depending on its alignment, which could be north or south of the Colorado River.

Russi and Jeff Simonson, town engineer, have noted that the segment through Canyon Creek and South Canyon is among the most daunting stretches of the entire LoVa trail.

However, New Castle's successful effort in obtaining matching money for its TAP grant could signal the start of a coalition consisting of local governments and other stakeholders — all of which could prove crucial when the time comes to seek construction dollars.

The town received a letter of support and $5,000 match from the city of Glenwood Springs, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and Garfield County. Additionally, LiveWell contributed $10,000 and the town kicked in another $10,000.

Those partnerships will be increasingly vital once the planning is completed and attention turns toward construction, Russi said. More stakeholders mean more resources and a potentially louder voice in the noisy and crowded process of applying for grants.

Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson, who also sits on the Garfield County Federal Mineral Lease District board of directors, noted in July that the collaboration would make the project a prime candidate for a future FMLD grant.

There is uniform agreement, though, that the bulk of construction money is going to have to come from outside of Garfield County — likely from state and federal agencies.

RFTA partnership?

In repeating a long-standing position, County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky reminded officials from New Castle that Garfield County is not in the trails business and will not maintain the trail.

But stakeholders pushing the recent efforts are hopeful they can find a partner that already has experience in operating a large multiuse trail: RFTA.

RFTA manages the majority of the Rio Grande Trail, a 42-mile trail running from Glenwood Springs to Aspen.

"RFTA has a great track record with operating and maintaining the Rio Grande Trail, and the question before the board is will they expand that non-transit transportation service, in other words the trails service, to the Colorado River Corridor trail network," Russi said.

Along with maintenance, RFTA also has experience in construction management, and it has access to some funding sources that local governments do not have, said Dan Blankenship, RFTA CEO.

From Blankenship's view, the LoVa Trail is a crucial component of the local and state trail network, both in terms of recreation and transportation.

"It's a project that I think is worthy of support not only by the local governments in the region but by state and possibly federal funding partners," Blankenship said. "It's a critical link in the overall statewide trail network."

The decision will be made by the board, which consists of representatives from RFTA member governments, but Blankenship said he intends to offer strong support for greater involvement on the part of RFTA.

"I'll encourage the board to allow staff to work with all the other partners to see what we can do to get this completed sometime in our lifetime."