LoVa trail effort makes governor’s priority list
Two area trail projects that have been long on discussion but short on funding and political support have made Gov. John Hickenlooper’s list of high-priority trail projects in Colorado.
Hickenlooper on Wednesday formally announced his “16 in 2016” initiative, which identifies 16 key trail gaps, unbuilt trails or missing links, for which the state intends to focus its efforts and try to push them toward completion.
Included among several Western Slope trail projects on the list is the stalled plan to build the 47-mile Lower Valley Trail through central Garfield County, and what would eventually be a 74-mile-long trail from Carbondale to Crested Butte.
The Lower Valley, or LoVa, project has been in discussion locally since the late 1990s. It envisions a non-motorized paved trail eventually stretching from Glenwood Springs along the Colorado River/Interstate 70 corridor to the Garfield-Mesa county line, and connecting the communities of New Castle, Silt, Rifle and Parachute.
To date, however, only two short, unconnected segments have been built between West Glenwood and South Canyon, along with localized trails in each of the communities.
“Clearly, it’s important to get named to this list,” said Larry Dragon, who has directed the LoVa Trails group for more than 10 years. “To be recognized on a statewide level shows that this is a really important trail link. The question is still what this means for the future, and what the next steps are.”
Although no direct funding is tied to the listing, the Great Outdoors Colorado program intends to set aside $30 million over the next four years to invest in trails projects across the state.
GOCO has dedicated the first $10 million of that funding for its “Connect Initiative” in 2016, and the 16 priority projects are eligible to apply for money through that program, according to a news release issued by the governor’s office on Wednesday.
“We’ve identified projects that will help us fulfill the vision of Colorado the Beautiful, and create the kinds of connections that link us to the natural splendor that sets our state apart,” Hickenlooper said in the release.
The LoVa trail is seen as a key link in the region’s existing network of trails that would enhance recreation opportunities and provide a safe transportation alternative for bicyclists.
“While providing key transportation options to lower valley commuters, the LoVa Trail is also considered a vital catalyst to regional economic vitality and provides a regional recreational opportunity to Western Slope citizens and visitors alike for a healthy quality of life,” Garfield County Manager Kevin Batchelder wrote in supporting the trail project’s nomination for the governor’s list.
Both Garfield County and the city of Glenwood Springs have committed money in recent years to try to match various grant proposals to get the next section of the South Canyon trail section built. But those plans of fizzled due to an inability to obtain grant funding, and the high costs associated with building the trail.
County commissioners on Tuesday did agree to designate another $5,000 this year to help with the group’s continued efforts to line up partnerships and funding support for the project.
“The governor’s initiative is tailor-made for the LoVa trail,” former Olympic cyclist Jeanne Golay, who has been active with the LoVa planning efforts, told the commissioners.
“Especially when you talk about missing links, gaps and important connections, this project is number one for recreation, biking and tourism,” she said.
CRYSTAL VALLEY TRAIL
Likewise, the Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail was first envisioned in 2004 as a way to provide a non-motorized alternative to navigating part of the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway.
Through the efforts of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails, a five-mile section of the paved bike trail now runs from Carbondale, with its convenient link to the Roaring Fork Valley’s Rio Grande Trail, south to the KOA Campground at Bill Creek along the Crystal River.
But that project, too, has fallen short of money and has run up against legal hurdles to obtaining a trail easement between the point where the trail now ends and Redstone.
The Crystal Valley and LoVa trail projects were also recently included in the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s new Regional Bicycle, Pedestrian and Transit Access Plan as key trail connections related to transit access.
Other Western Slope trail projects included on the governor’s list are the Colorado Riverfront Trail and the Palisade Plunge in Mesa County, the Eagle Valley Trail, the Fremont Pass Trail and the Paths to Mesa Verde project.
Hickenlooper plans to create an interagency council to coordinate state government efforts to promote the trail projects and steer them to various funding sources.
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Over 75,000 hikers visited Hanging Lake during this year’s peak season. Via signage, the city hopes to point more of those hikers also in the direction of downtown Glenwood Springs.