Carbondale gets shot at preserving Red Hill access

Ryan Summerlin
Mushroom Rock, overlooking Carbondale and Mount Sopris, is part of hte Red Hill Trail System.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent |

Carbondale may have a chance to preserve a long sought-after property at the base of Red Hill through a contract with Aspen Valley Land Trust.

“It’s a unique property that’s been on the radar for 10 years,” said Suzanne Stephens, executive director of AVLT. The town’s main interest is to maintain the area as open space and keep this key gateway into town from becoming a commercial development. AVLT has also been part of past efforts to acquire that land. But the asking price had always been too high for the town or the land trust to acquire it, until now. “Once the price dropped, a lot of interest started brewing,” she said.

That includes private interests eyeing the land for commercial development, and the Carbondale Board of Trustees is keen to preserve that property as open space. After seeing the land price come down recently on the 25-acre property, AVLT has offered to fundraise to buy the property, make access improvements and then turn that land over to the town.

This project would work toward a few other goals. The parking area currently serves dual purposes, both for recreational users of Red Hill and as a park and ride lot for upvalley commuters. Part of the plan would be to separate those uses, and have an actual trail head just west of the dirt road with parking for trail users.

Another goal is to get those hikers and cyclists off the dirt road, Garfield County Road 107. Currently hikers have to park by Colorado 82 and walk up the county road to the trailhead. Garfield County also has a public safety interest in keeping trail users off the county road, as residents up 107 frequently have to navigate their vehicles through large number of trail users on the dirt road.

Carbondale trustees made a unanimous motion last week for town staff to collaborate with AVLT for this project.

Having a partner like AVLT come along is critical because the town doesn’t have the funds for this kind of project, said Trustee Ben Bohmfalk.

“We think it’s great we have a partner in AVLT, to come together and leverage what the town can do, what it couldn’t do on its own and keep that open space in public hands,” he said. If it were to become a commercial development, it would change the character of that whole area, not to mention the added traffic headache at that intersection, he said. Bohmfalk said a mini-storage business was one proposal for that property.

AVLT has funds set aside specifically for projects like this within seven miles of the town boundary, from a River Valley Ranch conservation transfer fee that would be used as seed money for the Red Hill access project, said Stephens.

AVLT is still working through its due diligence phase, “so it’s not a done deal by any means,” said Stephens. “But the trustee meeting was a great start to make sure we have the town on board. It’s a win-win for everyone to preserve the entrance to Carbondale.”

The property closing is in January, so AVLT has until the end of the year, said Stephens. The land trust will be working to get the word out and start a targeted campaign. The nonprofit can match a fair amount but can’t pull the full weight, “so we will be looking for the community to step up,” she said.

The land trust is still estimating how much money it needs to raise by year’s end and estimating costs for trail construction, possible parking lot improvements and a maintenance endowment for the town.

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