Red Hill Rec area near Carbondale set to close for road, parking lot upgrades starting Monday
Crown suggested as optional destination, but with health cautions
A planned closure of the popular Red Hill Recreation Area trailhead near Carbondale, possibly through June, admittedly comes at a bad time with people trying to recreate as close to home as possible.
But it could have been worse had the long-planned road and parking area improvements happened on schedule.
“There are going to be way more options for trail users now than there would have been if we would have been able to start the project as planned in April,” Carbondale Public Works Director Kevin Schorzman said.
With the later start, it means that many of the area U.S. Forest lands are now accessible, and will become more so over the next couple of weeks as the high-country snowpack melts, he said.
After nearly a month’s delay, the town finally received approval last week from the Colorado Department of Transportation to begin work on the Red Hill Road realignment project at the intersection of state Highways 82 and 133.
That work begins Monday when the trail access and parking lot will be closed until the project is completed. That could be anywhere from four to six weeks, Schorzman said.
During the construction, pedestrians and bicyclists will not be allowed access onto Garfield County Road 107 and the adjoining trailhead.
“This is due solely to safety concerns while construction is actively taking place, and also after hours,” Schorzman said.
During working hours, there will be equipment moving around the entire site, he said. After hours, “there may still be hazards in the area based on how things finish up on any given day,” he added.
The road itself, which provides access to several houses and will remain open for those residents, will also likely be one lane. If pedestrians and bicyclists were to be allowed, it would increase conflicts with cars.
The project hits as local hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers have been flocking to Red Hill and other nearby trails in an effort to keep their outdoor recreation close to home during the coronavirus public health restrictions.
With the Red Hill closure, it will put added pressure on other area trails, including the extensive Prince Creek and Crown Mountain trail network southeast of Carbondale, and trails in the Thompson Creek area.
Town officials, along with the Bureau of Land Management, which directly oversees the Red Hill area, have been working to get the word out to user groups, including the Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, to make sure they are aware of the looming closure.
Electronic message boards have also been placed at the parking lot advising of the closure.
Since the trailhead parking lot doubles as a park-and-ride lot, Schorzman said the town is asking commuters to use alternative parking lots next to Carbondale Town Hall on Colorado Avenue, and at the rodeo grounds east of town on County Road 100.
As for trail enthusiasts, the BLM recommends using the Crown Mountain trail system as an alternative — so long as users spread out, maintain social distancing and not linger in trailhead parking areas, BLM Assistant Field Manager Brian Hopkins said.
“That’s really where we would rather have you go,” Hopkins said. “We have the infrastructure there and numerous access points to accommodate that extra use.”
Those include various trailheads along Prince Creek Road, as well as to the north off of the Rio Grande Trail on the El Jebel side.
With forest land opening up, trails through Hay Park will soon be dry and ready to ride or hike, and much of the Thompson Creek area is already rideable, Hopkins noted.
“There are a lot of close-to-home options where we will be sending folks, instead,” he said.
Sutey still limited
Hikers and horseback riders also have the option of the recently acquired Sutey property to the north of Red Hill, accessible via County Road 112.
The 557 acres remain a mix of working ranch land, along with a wintertime closure for wildlife habitat and a special management plan allowing multiple recreation uses during the warmer months.
The area remains off-limits for now to mountain bikes, though, until a trail can be constructed connecting to the adjacent Red Hill area. Parking is also limited to about a dozen vehicles, and even fewer if it’s being used for a horse trailer or two, Hopkins said.
Eventually, in addition to the bike trail connection, the BLM and other entities plan to expand the parking area to include separate sections for horse trailers and single vehicles, as well as add more capacity.
“Hopefully next year,” Hopkins said.
Once the trail is built, the Sutey section will be opened up to mountain bike access between June 1 and Sept. 30 and will be limited to foot and horse access during the spring and fall shoulder seasons. A full closure is in effect for that area from Dec. 1 through April 15 each year.
Keep your distance
While social-distancing guidelines are still in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Hopkins also urged trail users to be conscientious, especially at crowded trailheads.
“Our message remains consistent with the state, in that people definitely need to practice social distancing, travel in groups of less than 10 people and use good hygiene,” he said. “We want people to go out and enjoy our public lands, but we want people to be responsible.”
Bike riders are also encouraged to ride to trailheads from town, if possible, and not use the parking areas if they can avoid it.
For those using the parking areas, once done with their ride or hike, they should vacate as soon as possible, he added.
That’s not only a good idea for maintaining social distancing but to free up parking spaces for the next users who come along, Hopkins said.
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