Commissioners vote to give trail $50K
Post Independent Staff
In an unusual move, the Garfield County Commissioners reversed a decision not to support a segment of a Crystal River Valley trail and promised $50,000 to help fund the project.
The change in direction came after citizens and local governments lobbied the commission to change its mind about funding about a mile of trail south of Carbondale to the Pitkin County line.
On Nov. 9, the commissioners turned down a request for $150,000 from Pitkin County Open Space and Trails for construction of the section. Part of the original request included $100,000 worth of donated labor and materials from the county for trail base and bridge construction.
The commissioners did not approve a requested $100,000 in-kind donation Monday, despite support from Commissioner Tresi Houpt who has supported the trail funding from the outset.
A section of trail that is projected to run over McClure Pass and into Gunnison County has already been constructed through Carbondale, from the intersection of Highways 133 and 82 to Snowmass Drive.
The commissioners came under fire for their original decision, notably from the Carbondale Town Board, which has committed $813,000 for a two-mile stretch of the trail from the county line to Thompson Creek where it owns an area of open space.
In defending their denial of the funding request, the commissioners said they had depleted the Conservation Trust Fund, itself funded with state lottery money, which the county uses to support trails funding. In refusing the request, Commissioners Larry McCown and John Martin said they were not willing to take money from the general fund.
However, the county has promised support to two trails projects. It has promised $50,000 to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority for a segment of the Rio Grande Trail near Carbondale. In addition, the Lower Valley Trails Group received a total of $85,000 for its trail beside Interstate 70 from West Glenwood Springs to Canyon Creek.
Garfield County citizens want trails, LoVa director Larry Dragon told the commissioners Monday. A Glenwood Springs Post Independent online survey showed 74 percent disagreed with the commissioners’ original decision, he said.
“It’s further evidence that the people of Garfield County want these amenities. It’s time to think about freeing up some other money” (than the Conservation Trust Fund), he said.
Supporters of the trail turned out in force Monday in Glenwood Springs ” including a vanload of people from Carbondale ” hoping to convince the commissioners to go back on their decision and agree to contribute the $50,000 plus in-kind services.
Carbondale trustee Scott Chaplin appealed to the county to support the trail.
“The whole thing doesn’t come together unless we all pull together,” he said. He also offered, if the county was “having trouble with its budgets to loan money from our (the town’s) reserves.”
Commissioner John Martin said that was likely against state law.
Without the trail segment through Garfield County, trail users would have to walk close to busy Highway 133, trail advocates said.
“Carbondale wants to avoid this extreme safety hazard that invites tragedy,” said town Trustee Alice Laird.
Laird also said the town would agree to maintain the trail.
Also supporting the trail funding were the chambers of commerce in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.
Roaring Fork Transportation Authority director Dan Blankenship offered an alternative to county funding. He said the agency was recently notified it will receive $1 million in federal highway funds and might be able to apply the money promised by the county for the Rio Grande Trail to the Crystal River Valley trail.
Newly elected Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen also appealed to the commissioners to commit to the trail.
“The city of Glenwood Springs feels strongly (the trail) would be good for the residents of Garfield County,” Christensen said.
Martin defended his original decision.
“We’ve had to give and take, and we’ve tried to stretch (the Conservation Trust Fund money) as far as we can. … I never said no (to the initial request). The timing wasn’t right.”
Martin also said he was concerned about the potential impacts to a historic bald eagle’s nest along the Crystal River near Carbondale.
Commissioner Larry McCown, who has said the county should not be in the business of funding recreation, also expressed concerns about the trail. He asked if a trail design had been completed and a cost determined.
Pitkin County Open Space and Trails director Dale Will said the eagle’s nest is on the west side of the river and the trial is proposed for the east side.
During the Nov. 9 commissioners meeting McCown said he opposed the funding because the voters had vetoed the idea of a sales tax to support recreation projects such as trails. He reiterated that stand Monday.
“There has been a misunderstanding. The voters in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale municipalities support trails within the confines of their corporate limits. The unincorporated (county area) is the extent of our authority. We got (the ballot question) to the only people we could,” he said.
Houpt once again voiced her support of trails in the county.
“We need to be an active partner in this trail so we don’t jeopardize other funds coming to the trail,” she said.
She also pointed out that the commissioners have spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” on the fairgrounds and has budgeted $380,000 for 2006.
“This is a very diverse county with a variety of interests and needs. We’ve seen Rifle benefit from the fairgrounds investment. I think we need to look at the entire county in our strategy for spending public money,” she said.
Houpt made a motion to grant the $50,000 request to be paid out of the general fund and repaid from the Conservation Trust Fund. Martin voted for the motion and McCown against.
Martin also said he was not opposed to giving in-kind service on the trail but would like to wait until a design is completed.
“I’d like to revisit that when the grant is finalized,” he said. “The conversation is not ended. The conversation has only begun.”
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UPDATE: Both westbound lanes and one eastbound lane of Interstate 70, according to a 12:20 a.m. update from Garfield County.