Red Hill enthusiasts happy to make their favorite pilgrimage once again, after summer-long shutdown for improvements |

Red Hill enthusiasts happy to make their favorite pilgrimage once again, after summer-long shutdown for improvements

Carbondale resident Olivia Emery and her dog Padre walk towards the new parking area for the Red Hill Recreation Area after a late morning hike.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

That tacky dirt surface that Red Hill Trail users have come to know and love after a good rain greeted the day Tuesday, as the popular hiking and mountain bike area outside Carbondale reopened for the first time in more than three months.

The new trailhead-area improvements weren’t the only hit. The overnight rain and cooler temperatures were welcome relief after hot, dry weather dominated the summer.

And, of course it was a welcome return to a special place that has been off-limits since mid-May while construction was ongoing.

Rachel Thompson of Carbondale was out doing a little canine hiking training with her 4-month-old dog, Doobie.

“I’m so happy it opened back up, because this is my favorite hike and it’s so close to home,” Thompson said. “It’s just right here, and it’s very convenient, with great views all around.”

The trailhead improvements, including a separated alignment for Garfield County Road 107 that serves homes in the area, and two separate parkings lots — one for trail users and one for park-and-ride work commuters — is welcome, Thompson said.

“It’s so much easier to get in and out, and I feel safer, especially with (Doobie), because she’s still a puppy,” she said.

Ross Muxworthy of Carbondale was also joined by his favorite hiking companion on the Red Hill trails, rescue dog Coda.

“It’s just beautiful up here, and it’s perfect for her because she’s able to be free once we’re out on the trail,” Muxworthy said. “I think they did a fantastic job with the new parking lot and trailhead. It’s so much nicer than it was.”

Bryan and Debbie Boyle, also longtime Carbondale residents, had been hiking the county roads close to their home most of the summer, and were ready to be back on the Red Hill trails.

“After three-and-a-half months without people, and that little bit of rain, it was really nice out there,” Debbie Boyle said.

A mountain biker rides toward the new Red Hill trailhead on Tuesday afternoon after the trail reopened earlier in the day.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Since mid-May, contractors for Garfield County have been busy with a major road realignment. A new straight-shot county road now meets the intersection of state Highways 82 and 133. 

The project — a partnership between the county, the town of Carbondale and several community organizations — was primarily intended to reduce conflicts between vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists, and to create more parking capacity.

“It was getting pretty heavily used, so this is perfect,” Carbondale resident Dave Notor said as he gathered up his hiking gear for a midday trek Tuesday.

“I used to ride it, but I’m more of a hiker now,” he said. “I try to get up here once or twice a week, at least.”

With the Red Hill trail network out of commission for the summer, “there were only a few places close by to go, so it was almost shoulder-to-shoulder on any other hikes,” Notor added.

Ed Piccolo, also of Carbondale, had fun navigating the slightly rearranged trail options headed up the front side of Red Hill toward Mushroom Rock.

Hikers study the new Red Hill Recreation Area map and trail postings after the trail reopened on Tuesday.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“I had to pay attention, because it is a little bit different,” he said. “Overall, it’s nice, and a lot more accessible. It will fill up, that’s for sure.”

Other groups participating in the project included Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, the Bureau of Land Management and its special Red Hill Council, and — in a huge way — the Aspen Valley Land Trust.

AVLT launched the Save Red Hill campaign a few years ago to raise the $1.35 million needed to secure the 25 acres of former privately owned and commercially zoned land where the new parking lots and trailhead now exist.

“We are thrilled that Red Hill is finally reopening with its new entryway, thanks to our community’s dedication to save this land,” Suzanne Stephens, Aspen Valley Land Trust Executive Director, said in a recent news release announcing the reopening.

“This is the perfect example of what we can accomplish when we work together, and speaks to the value of connecting people with special places,” she said. “We are proud to know this community treasure will be here for us forever.”

In 2018, AVLT transferred ownership of the parcel to the town of Carbondale, which then led a public planning process to design new trail connections. In August, the Town, the Red Hill Council and Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers completed construction of the various new connector trails.

Carbondale Parks and Recreation Director Eric Brendlinger erects a sign discouraging people from using the road to access the Red Hill Recreation Area after the trail reopened on Tuesday morning.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

​The historic Red Hill trailhead farther up the county road has been decommissioned, and trails in that area have been realigned to avoid conflicts with vehicle traffic.

Some minor work on the project is scheduled to continue after Labor Day weekend, but the parking areas, trail access and road are to remain open.

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