No resolution to CRMS access dispute
A dispute between Colorado Rocky Mountain School and its neighbors on how best to accommodate nonmotorized public access through the campus was no closer to any sort of resolution Monday following more than two hours of testimony before Garfield County commissioners.
What’s clear, though, is that officials with the private prep school located outside Carbondale do not want a public trail to be marked and improved in any way.
“When it comes to a trail through the campus, we feel like we need to be on record that the school opposes any trail improvements or signage that would draw attention to the existence of the right of way,” Joe White, finance director for CRMS, said during the meeting with commissioners.
The school argued unsuccessfully last year to have the county right of way vacated for campus security reasons, in exchange for an improved trail around the north and east side of the campus to Highway 133. Commissioners voted 2-1 in June 2014 to deny the vacation request.
White said the school does not dispute the right of pedestrians and bicyclists to use the historic 60-foot-wide County Road 106 easement that runs south and north through the campus.
The road was closed by the county to vehicle use in 1979 when CRMS agreed to build Dolores Way, which now serves as the main vehicle access between Carbondale and Satank. But the county kept the campus right of way in place for nonmotorized use.
Anything that draws attention to what’s now an unimproved road easement “is not in the best interest of our school and the students,” White reiterated.
The Monday meeting was called to review the school’s recent driveway realignment and monument entryway construction at the main south entrance. The project earned county approvals, but is now being called into question because the monument feature obstructs the road easement, forcing anyone trying to pass through the campus to trespass.
A stop-work order was issued by the county last week until the matter can be settled. That could be handled with a license to encroach, commissioners said, or they could ask that the partially built structure to be relocated.
Residents of the Satank neighborhood north of the CRMS campus, as well as from the greater Carbondale area, want the county to establish a designated trail along the easement to avoid any confusion about possible trespass.
Since he made that suggestion to the commissioners in early April, Satank resident John Armstrong said relations between the school and neighbors have “degenerated.”
“I’m proud of my neighbors who have taken the high road,” Armstrong said of efforts taken to preserve the easement, including recent upgrades to a primitive foot trail that enters the campus from the north.
The county issued a stop-work order on that project as well, after school officials said a culvert and earthen path that was built in place of an iron grate that had been used to cross over an irrigation ditch was done without approval from the Rockford Ditch Co.
Residents claim they were within their rights to install the culvert on a portion of the ditch that serves their properties.
“So much of this controversy could be put to rest if we had a safe, ADA-compliant trail through the campus,” Armstrong said. “We are absolutely sensitive to the concerns of CRMS … we want the public to be safe, and we want students to be safe.”
Carbondale resident Sue Edelstein said the easement provides a safe, alternative route from town to Satank and the Rio Grande Trail. It’s also regularly used by students of the nearby Carbondale Community School, she said.
After the road vacation was denied last year, Edelstein said CRMS was asked by the county to get with neighbors to come up with a workable solution.
That never happened, she said.
Instead, “It appears CRMS has escalated its actions to secure and occupy the right of way,” Edelstein said. “It’s almost like they are forcing us to trespass.”
COMMISSIONERS WILL VISIT
County commissioners, for their part, at the suggestion of County Manager Andrew Gorgey, will conduct a site visit at the CRMS campus the morning of May 14 to walk the easement and determine if a trail could be built. That meeting is to take place at 9 a.m., and is open to the public.
Commissioners also scheduled a follow-up discussion during their regular May 18 meeting to consider the next steps and hear from other interested citizens and CRMS officials.
Commissioner Mike Samson expressed his frustration that the follow-up meeting between the school and neighbors suggested last year did not happen.
“I understand the security concern … but I don’t see any terrible, imminent threat,” he said. “And I’m frustrated that the (CRMS) trustees appear to be not willing to accept that people have a right to use that right of way, and not be harassed for using it.
“I’m tired of this, and I don’t want it coming back before us again in a year or two,” Samson said.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said he would prefer the county not establish a designated foot path through the campus, which would likely fall on the county to maintain.
Gorgey said that may be the best solution to the problem, though.
“I don’t know why you wouldn’t have a trail that’s not delineated,” he said. “If you’re going to have a trail, why wouldn’t you make it look as good as we can … and something that can be an asset to the school?”
Jankovsky said that if the county is to invest in trail improvement, it should complete the connections to existing trails along Dolores Way and a paved trail along County Road 106 that now ends short of the CRMS campus.
In the meantime, the stop-work order on the monument and other work within the county easement will remain in effect.
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Marti Barbour was selected almost 20 years ago as the first recipient of a Habitat For Humanity house in the Roaring Fork Valley. She paid off her mortgage in June and recalled the dire times her family faced and the help that Habitat provided.