LoVa project on the right path
Post Independent Contributor
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
A hardy cyclist can now ride from Aspen all the way to West Glenwood Springs.
The Rio Grande Trail begins in Aspen and connects some 40 miles downvalley to the Glenwood Springs trail system that takes riders to Two Rivers Park. The official trail ends there. Devereux Road connects the city’s trail to the Whitewater Park and opens out onto Midland Avenue. Across Midland, a concrete bike path meanders along the river past the hotels and car dealerships.
But beyond that, it’s all frontier.
The Lower Valley Trails Group, aka LoVa, is conquering that frontier with the fortitude of the railroads and highways that went before them. The comparison may sound dramatic, but according to LoVa director Larry Dragon, it’s not far from the truth.
“Right now, we’re focusing on South Canyon,” he said. “And it’s proved to be amazingly difficult and amazingly expensive.”
What started out in 1999 as a group of citizens concerned about over-development of the Colorado River Valley, evolved into an ambitious, grassroots initiative to build a 47-mile trail from Glenwood Springs to the Mesa County line. There it would meet up with Mesa County’s Riverfront Trail that runs along the Colorado River from Palisade to Fruita.
“This fits into a statewide vision to create an east-west trail from Kansas to Utah,” Dragon said.
Portions of the Trans-Colorado Trail, including the Glenwood Canyon Trail, the Eagle County Core Trail from Avon to Vail, the Vail Pass Trail to Silverthorne, and segments between Silver Plume and Idaho Springs and between Fruita and Grand Junction, are already in place.
But for LoVa, it all started with five miles of trail along Interstate 70 through South Canyon. This section of highway, said Dragon, has no alternative route for bicyclists, pedestrians, or emergency vehicles.
“If you want to ride a bike from western Garfield County to Glenwood, you have to go on I-70,” he explained. It’s a treacherous endeavor at any time of the year.
So in 2004, LoVa got busy. Dragon was hired as part-time director and in 2005, the design of the South Canyon trail began.
Remember the meandering concrete path between the Colorado River and the West Glenwood hotels and car dealerships?
Phase I extends that trail by 650 feet around the Glenwood Springs Sanitation District facility. A concrete and metal bridge spans Mitchell Creek where it meets the Colorado. Views of the river and Red Mountain are astounding.
“The Sanitation District donated the easement in 2006,” said Dragon. “Construction costs for that phase alone were over $600,000.”
The trail comes to an abrupt end at the highway where a red and white barrier and LoVa sign mark the beginning of Phase III that has yet to come to fruition. Design and engineering of all three phases cost around $300,000, which includes environmental clearances from CDOT and the Bureau of Land Management.
Phase II, a 2,000-foot section from West Glenwood to the old South Canyon Bridge, was completed in 2011 for close to $800,000. Dragon estimates Phase III, the trail’s missing link, will cost $3 million.
“That means all three phases of the South Canyon trail will have cost over $4 million,” he said.
Funding comes from Garfield County and grants.
“Ever since 2004, Garfield County has provided $50,000 each year for primary operating funds,” said Dragon, who works out of an office in Rifle. The county and the city of Glenwood Springs have also matched GoCo, Colorado Parks and Trails, and federal transportation enhancement grants for design and construction costs.
Is the trail worth the trouble? Dragon thinks it is.
“The trail saves fuel and it’s healthy,” he said. “There are a million reasons why we have to have this.”
LoVa is also helping the town of Rifle finish a boat ramp and trail project at the CDOT rest area south of town and is working with the towns of New Castle and Silt on how to bring the bike trail further west.
Dragon, at 62, said he probably won’t see the completion of the whole trail in his lifetime. But maybe he’ll get to drive a golden spike in South Canyon when that part of the path comes together in 2014.
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