Glenwood Springs council wrestles with trash, trails and homelessness, all on one piece of land |

Glenwood Springs council wrestles with trash, trails and homelessness, all on one piece of land

In this 2018 file photo, trash piles are found along the trails around the homeless camps located on the hillside above Wal-Mart in Glenwood Springs.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Glenwood Springs city councilors on Thursday night debated the merits of taking ownership of a trash-strewn parcel of land east of Walmart and turning it into public open space.

The 106-acre parcel is privately owned on unincorporated county land, Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said, and landowner David Forenza from the Vail valley wants to donate the land to the city or the county.

The roughly hour-long discussion touched on the mountains of trash that need to cleaned up, the opportunity for more parkland and trails, homeless camps on the property and the liability of ownership.

Mountains of trash

Whatever becomes of the property, the trash was a concern to all in attendance. Both the county and the city balked at cleaning up private land, though Glenwood Springs City Council voted to dedicate $15,000 towards the cleanup at its June 4 meeting.

“When I talked to Commissioner Jankovsky a couple of months ago I just said we were happy to donate our $15,000 to the county because right now it’s not within the city and we don’t have ownership of it, so it’s very difficult for us to clean it up,” city manager Debra Figueroa said Thursday.

Jankovsky and Councilor Charlie Willman both expressed limited enthusiasm for undergoing a cleanup if it just ends up getting trashed again.

Ron Rash, executive director of Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, said he could get volunteers to help with the cleanup if certain conditions were met, including the land being transferred to public ownership and making sure all hazardous waste is cleaned up first.

Councilor Shelley Kaup said that recreational use of the property could keep the trash problem from continuing.

Parkland and trails

The county is not equipped to handle parkland, so Jankovsky contacted the Aspen Valley Land Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to land preservation.

Erin Quinn, AVLT conservation director, said there are comparisons to the Red Hill trail system in Carbondale in terms of maintenance work required from the city.

“It wouldn’t require a lot of maintenance … though I would recommend trash removal,” she said.

Mike Pritchard, executive director of the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, said this presents a very exciting opportunity that should be pursued. He said the city has expressed interest in trails connections between other city-owned properties on the east side of town, and this could fit into that scheme.

City Parks and Recreation director Brian Smith was more cautious about the land’s use as a park. Nevertheless, the subject is on the Parks and Recreation Commission agenda for Oct. 13, he said.

“I don’t know how much value there is in the land as a municipal park. … It’s not really a conversation about a municipal park, it’s more about homeless encampment cleanup issues,” he said. 

Homeless camps

Smith said there are 20 homeless encampments in the area.

“Encampments tend to move to other places, they don’t disappear,” he said, underscoring how city issues become intertwined.

Quinn said AVLT had reached out to Catholic Charities. They know who’s living there and are supportive of the project, she said.

City manager Debra Figueroa said she has had some concerns about forcing homeless people from that parcel after cracking down downtown.

“I have struggled with it. … People have a right to sleep,” she said.

Liability of ownership

Based on the current state and use of the property, some city representatives had reservations about taking ownership of the parcel. Mayor Jonathan Godes compared the current discussion to ones council has had about the north landing.

The north landing is where the former Grand Avenue Bridge landed in Glenwood Springs near the Hotel Colorado. It’s now home to a sculpture — Tubing on the Colorado.

“Once we own it our hands are legally tied. … It could become a homeless encampment,” he said.

Figueroa saw the potential for never-ending trash cleanup.

“If we take possession of this property we will then be responsible to clean it up year after year after year, not only the trail area but the park area itself if people continue to camp there,” she said.

GOCO grant

In the end, council agreed to support AVLT’s efforts to acquire a $150,000 GOCO grant due Oct. 16, and that it was worth continuing to look into the property, its uses and its liabilities.

Councilor Steve Davis seemed to sum up the ambivalence of the council.

“I think it’s absolutely a great project for someone to take on. However, that someone is not Glenwood Springs,” he said.

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