Carbondale concerned about Pitkin’s Crystal trail-planning process
Carbondale trustees are likely to offer some broader advice, rather than making any detailed recommendations, regarding Pitkin County Open Space and Trails’ proposed multiuse trail through the Crystal River Valley.
The town board at its Tuesday night meeting spent more than an hour taking more public comment and hashing out draft comments on the controversial trail proposal.
As the largest municipality that would be impacted by the trail, Carbondale was asked by the county to provide formal comments. Those comments will be forthcoming by Nov. 15, Mayor Dan Richardson said.
The trail proposal was the subject of a standing-room-only, sometimes heated public forum at the Third Street Center gymnasium last week, attended jointly by the Carbondale Board of Trustees and Pitkin County officials.
Major concerns expressed by Crystal Valley residents and environmental interests centered on wildlife impacts, the prospect of some segments running through neighborhoods and costs to build the north end of the eventual Carbondale-to-Crested Butte link.
“I do support the notion of a trail, and the need to have multimodal access up and down that corridor,” Richardson said. “Clearly what we are hearing … is that they have missed the mark on some things, and our obligation is to make recommendations that help those folks be heard.”
Instead of focusing on a preferred trail alignment, or even whether the trail should be built at all, trustees said they are more concerned at this point about process and providing more opportunities for direct public comment on the matter.
Trustee Heather Henry said the Open Space and Trails website dedicated to the proposed project is informative, but might not be the most transparent way to solicit public input.
“If we’ve heard a single voice in all of the comments, it was about the process,” she said. “If there’s not an accessible way for people to provide feedback, they feel left out.”
Weighing in on the two proposed alignments or other details of the proposal seems premature, Henry said.
One of the county’s proposed alignments between the end of the existing path at the BRB Campground would generally follow the Colorado 133 highway corridor west of the Crystal River. The other alignment would break away from the highway and jump the river, making use of historic old paths, roadways and a former railroad grade.
In addition to suggesting more public forums and small-group discussions around the trail proposal, the town is likely to recommend against using the Filoha Meadows open space parcel for the trail. State wildlife officials have recommended, if a trail is built in that area, a lengthy seasonal closure from October into June to protect bighorn sheep and other wildlife.
The town is also reluctant to endorse the use of eminent domain to obtain private lands for a trail easement, except as a last resort. And the county should include a “no-action” option, trustees said, as will be done through a formal federal environmental assessment on portions of the trail that cross U.S. Forest Service lands.
The proposed connecting trail has been long contemplated by local governments, going back as far at 1994. About 5 miles of paved trail was already built from Carbondale to the BRB Campground in 2009.
Last year, Gov. John Hickenlooper placed the Crystal Valley Trail on his “16 in 2016” list, opening the door for a planning grant for Pitkin County Open Space to do the first thorough environmental and engineering studies of the corridor for the trail project.
Those who spoke before Carbondale trustees Tuesday echoed the sentiments shared at the forum last week.
Comments ranged from serious concerns about wildlife and sensitive river habitat to serious support for a dedicated bicycle and multiuse trail up the Crystal, eventually connecting to an existing forest trail system at the top of McClure Pass over Kebler Pass to Crested Butte.
Darren Broome, part owner of Aloha Mountain Cyclery and chair of Carbondale’s tourism committee, spoke to the economic benefits of a trail connection up the Crystal Valley.
“Anything of a recreational design that looks supportable, I am in favor of,” he said. “Recreation is healthy, it’s low impact and it’s something we need for people to come here and enjoy.”
Carbondale resident Bill Spence also encouraged the trustees to be more supportive of the project.
“The county is offering to put a gift at our doorstep that is very hard to refuse,” he said.
Presented by Mayor Richardson with the “threshold question” of whether they support the concept of a trail, most trustees agreed that they do, as long as there’s a fair and thorough process.
Trustee Frosty Merriott, who was unable to attend the Tuesday meeting, offered some written comments on the trail proposal.
“First, I am opposed to any alignment of the trail on the east side of the Crystal River,” he wrote. “The risk to wildlife … is just too great.”
Ultimately, though, “this project may be unaffordable,” Merriott added. “I think it may be irresponsible to spend $50-100 million on a luxury trail.”
Another concern for trustees is the potential impact on Carbondale’s primary Nettle Creek water source. Infrastructure for that system is located along part of one of the proposed trail alignments.
Trustees are expected to finalize comments in early November, to be sent to the county by the Nov. 15 comment deadline. A draft plan that incorporates all of the public comments is expected to come out in January, when discussion will go to the Pitkin County commissioners and Pitkin County Open Space and Trails.