RFTA backpedals from banning Ride the Rockies on trail section
ASPEN, Colo. More than 2,000 bicyclists pedaling in the Ride the Rockies tour in June will get a warm welcome from the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority after all.The RFTA board of directors on Thursday rejected a staff proposal to prohibit special events on the Rio Grande Trail between Carbondale and Emma. The staff’s recommendation made Ride the Rockies’ use of the bike path uncertain.But the board left no uncertainty how it felt after debating the issue for 30 minutes.”I’m actually embarrassed this is an issue,” said Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen, a RFTA board member. “I think we should do everything we can to make these people feel welcome.”Christensen is an avid cyclist who will participate in his eighth Ride the Rockies this summer. The week-long tour follows a different route in Colorado’s mountains each year. The route this year will take cyclists from Glenwood Springs to Aspen on June 21. The next day, the riders will tackle Independence Pass while traveling from Aspen to Leadville.Organizers wanted to use the Rio Grande Trail between Carbondale and Old Snowmass as an alternative to Highway 82. The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails staff, which manages the section of trail from Emma to Old Snowmass, is advising Pitkin County commissioners to deny use of the path. The staff claimed that packing that many riders on that small a path poses safety threats and would prevent locals from using the route that day.RFTA’s position was fuzzy heading into Thursday. Although staff was recommending against allowing special events, it was willing to consider an “exception” for Ride the Rockies for use of the stretch from Carbondale to Emma, according to facilities manger Mike Hermes.But even the RFTA board members who aren’t hard-core riders made it clear they want to welcome the bike tour to use the trail.”A number of people have said ‘Why build these trails if you’re not going to use them?'” said Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud, a RFTA board member.Prohibiting the cyclists from using the trail would send the wrong message about the Roaring Fork Valley’s appreciation of visitors and tourists, she said. “We’ll be back in the old days when people said they really didn’t want you there,” Klanderud said.”To say no to this event is just not right,” agreed RFTA board member and Snowmass Village Councilman John Wilkinson, an avid cyclist and former member of the state trails committee.Sara Fisher of Eagle County, Frank Breslin of New Castle, Ed Cortez of Carbondale and Dorothea Farris of Pitkin County joined Christensen, Klanderud and Wilkinson in support of allowing Ride the Rockies to use the RFTA-managed portion of the trail. The lone vote against the idea was by Gary Tennenbaum, a Basalt councilman and employee of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program.Tennenbaum seemed to represent his interests as an open space employee with his vote. The Basalt Town Council never directed him to vote against use of the trail for special events.Tennenbaum argued that the open space program and RFTA receive numerous requests to use the trail for special events, and allowing Ride the Rockies to use the trail sets a precedent to approve them all. That places the staffs that management the trail in a difficult position because of the time needed to oversee the events and assuring they are safe, he said.The RFTA board agreed that a special events policy is necessary to guide the staff. One criterion will be showing a high level of organization for safe use of the trail. Ride the Rockies has demonstrated that ability, board members said.The board will review a draft policy next month. Meanwhile, decisions will be on hold for every special event except Ride the Rockies.RFTA’s decision puts pressure on Pitkin County to follow suit, Farris acknowledged. If riders were allowed to use the RFTA portion of the trail to Emma, then Pitkin County prohibited use of the trail from Emma to Old Snowmass, it would force riders onto Highway 82 or force them to cross the highway, Farris noted.The Pitkin County commissioners are scheduled to discuss the issue at their April 17 meeting.Christensen said allowing the riders to use the trail will pay dividends for the Roaring Fork Valley. Those exposed to the trail will return in the future for family vacation, he predicted.”This is a chance to show people what we have,” Christensen said.
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