Survey results show emotions run deep over proposed Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail
The Aspen Times
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Following is a sample of the 500-plus public comments submitted to Pitkin County Open Space and Trails regarding the proposed Crystal Valley Trail. These comments were submitted via a survey on the agency’s website. Names were removed by the agency.
•“I do not want this trail to go through Filoha Meadows!! This is a protected area for a number of reasons and it needs to continue to be. To protect this wet land, big horn sheep area and then turn around and want to use it for a bike trail is just wrong.”
•“I am confident the team developing this project will consider the environmental impacts and design the path for the least impact. Overall, I believe this path is going to be a significant asset to the region.”
•“Maintain our environmental values as if they matter. Lip service to those values don’t (sic) cut it.”
•“Love the idea. Hate the impacts.”
•“I hope they can get it done in my lifetime.”
•“I love the idea. Would love to do a loop around Aspen – Carbondale – Crested Butte – Aspen.
•“The users of the trail would have a negative impact on each subdivision that it goes through.”
•“Put wildlife #1, and avoid all impacts to wildlife. Even though it will be more costly to build, this is the choice that honors this place, rather than just ‘using’ this place.”
•“I think it’s great. I understand the environmental concerns but the benefit outweighs the risks in my opinion.”
•“Consider more alternative routes than A & B. A is too expensive and B puts wildlife at too much risk.”
•“Serious road bikers will stay on the highway, not the proposed trail, and the highway is too narrow for much increased ridership. It’s not safe now. Accordingly, widening the highway is the only logical solution for a trail from Aspen to Crested Butte.”
•“Too Hot to Handle: Even the hint of ‘takings’ of private land through Emminent Domaine (sic) or use of RS2477 (claims of old right-of-ways for roads) would be a serious misstep, undermining the essential element of public trust established by Open Space and Trails over decades.”
•“The Crystal River is a wild and scenic corridor and I would prefer to see no further impact. I feel PITCO’S open space money would be better spend (sic) on preserving wild spaces which seem increasingly threatened.”
•“For the sake of animals, I prefer the alignment stay wholly on the west side of the Crystal River and close to the road. I’ll be a happy bicyclist and hunter with that arrangement.”
The proposed Carbondale to Crested Butte trail has widespread support among nearly 600 people who submitted public comments to Pitkin County, but a strong majority demanded that the route be as wildlife-friendly as possible.
The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program unveiled 527 individual survey responses Friday. The county also received 29 letters from individuals who didn’t fill out surveys and eight letters from other governments or citizen groups.
Pitkin County is trying to select an alignment for the multi-million dollar trail from where an existing paved trail stops 3 miles south of Carbondale to the top of McClure Pass. Meanwhile, groups in Gunnison County are pursuing construction to the count line at the top of McClure Pass. The trail would be about 83 miles long in total.
The roughly 20-mile stretch contemplated in Pitkin County is probably the most controversial. A sampling of the survey comments shows emotions run deep.
Some Crystal Valley residents clearly don’t want a path invading their territory, according to comments they submitted. Other respondents suggested Pitkin County is too aggressive with trail construction.
“When will the destruction caused by the bike frenzy end?” a foe asked.
But there was a flood of support from cyclists and hikers who want a trail through the stunning landscape carved by the Crystal River. Several respondents said Highway 133 is too narrow and busy to be safely navigated by cyclists.
One respondent urged the county to ignore the criticism of the trail from people who don’t want a trail in their backyard.
“I want it finished quickly before the special interests can kill it,” the respondent wrote. (For a sampling of other comments, see the sidebar.)
Pitkin County sought feedback via the survey on whether the alignment should be tucked along Highway 133 on the west side of the Crystal River or on remnants of old railroad beds and roads primarily on the east side of the river. A blend also is possible.
By the open space staff’s reckoning, 17 percent of the 527 respondents support a trail but didn’t express preference for an alignment. The highway alignment was supported by 22.6 percent while 29.6 percent favored most of the alignment east of the river with a few adjustments for wildlife. Another 13 percent supported more of a full blending of the two routes.
That came to about 82 percent support for the trail compared with 12 percent opposition and 6 percent in the “other category” because no position could be ascertained.
Building the trail primarily on the east side of the river would add tens of millions of dollars to the cost.
Some people were critical of the survey because it didn’t provide a “no trail” option. Thus, the results don’t accurately portray sentiments, they said.
Numerous comments were submitted by people who clearly have concerns over wildlife impacts and stated preference for the alignment closest to the highway. They were counted as supporters.
“I’m worried that it will impact the winter range of big horn sheep in the area,” one respondent wrote. That person went on to state a preference for the highway alignment along 11 segments of the trail open space is examining.
Numerous concerns were expressed for Filoha Meadows, a biologically diverse area on the east side of the river.
Several groups urged members to get involved in the open space program’s process. The Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association alerted its members about the opportunity to respond. Wilderness Workshop, the Roaring Fork Valley’s oldest homegrown conservation group, has undertaken its own wildlife study of the trail and urged members to submit comments to the county.
The Crystal Caucus held several meetings to keep members appraised.
The alignment debate is important for several reasons that came up in the responses — impact to wildlife, quality of experience and expense among them. The open space program released an interactive map earlier prior to the survey that divides the proposed trail corridor into 20 segments. The environmental consequences, engineering challenges and cost of both alignments were examined for each segment.
The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails board of directors will meet Thursday to discuss the survey results. The meeting is open to the public but it isn’t a public hearing. The meeting will be held from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. in the Community Room of Pitkin County Library.
The open space board and Pitkin County commissioners will hold a joint meeting Jan. 16 to provide direction to the staff on drafting a trail plan. Additional public comment will be collected on the draft plan.