Ride the Rockies Rio Grande plan hits bump
ASPEN Some 2,000 cyclists could roll down the Rio Grande Trail near Aspen in June if Ride the Rockies planner have their way, but some voices in the community say “no.”Event planners hoped to use the Rio Grande, but that idea ran into opposition last week when they met with officials from Pitkin County and the city of Aspen.Ride the Rockies is a 422-mile loop ride (not a race) starting and ending in Frisco, with stops in Steamboat Springs, Craig, Rifle, Glenwood Springs, Aspen and Leadville.The last time the ride came through Aspen was 1986, the inaugural Ride the Rockies.Legs of the event range from 35 to 100 miles, and riders will pass through Aspen on June 21 before pedaling to Leadville the following day.The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority oversees the trail from Glenwood to Emma, Pitkin County manages the portion from Emma to Woody Creek, and the city of Aspen owns the section from Woody Creek to town.The decision about using the trail for the event will go before Pitkin County commissioners in a work session April 17 and the RFTA board later this month.”We’re recommending they not use the Rio Grande Trail,” said Dale Will, director of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails.”I’m sympathetic to their problem,” Will said, adding that he understands why planners would like to get cyclists onto Lower River Road without having to ride Highway 82. But he said the route is too narrow, and closing the trail for the day is against Open Space and Trails policy.”The problems with using the bike trail for that large a group of high-performance cyclists isn’t something we’re willing to accept,” Will said. “We like bike riding, and we like Ride the Rockies, but we don’t think the Rio Grande is a good place to go.”Will is also concerned that the many nonregistered cyclists who join the ride could swell the 2,000 cyclists to as many as 4,000.Ride the Rockies planners also approached RFTA, requesting use of flatter sections of the trail between Carbondale and Emma, but officials from the transit agency are on the fence. Dan Blankenship, CEO of RFTA, said using the trail would be good public relations and might encourage visitors and locals to use the trail more in the future, but he is also concerned about the number of bicycles.”It may interfere with residents having access to the trail during the event,” Blankenship said.”It’s kind of a unique opportunity for the valley,” said Mike Hermes, director of trails and properties for RFTA. “But it’s something to let the board decide.”Hermes said the RFTA-owned portion of the trail is 10 feet wide and mostly flat and straight, while the Pitkin County section of trail is steep in places, just 8 feet wide and has poor sight lines on curvy stretches.”Our section of trail is designed for heavy use; theirs is designed for moderate use,” Hermes said.Hermes said he’s had more and more appeals for running and cycling events and exclusive use of the trail in recent years. He said the board will discuss standards for groups using the trail in the future – likely on a case-by-case system with a list of conditions, including no motor vehicles.”There’s a disagreement about what should be done,” said Ride the Rockies tour director Paul Balaguer, but he was quick to point out that the concerns of Open Space officials are not without grounds and he respects their care for the community.”It’s our position that far and away the safer alternative is to use the path,” Balaguer said. “We’ve never asked a trail be closed anywhere along Ride the Rockies, and we’re not asking that of this trail.”Ride the Rockies staff would post signs asking riders to go single-file on the narrow trail and warn pedestrians and other cyclists that the group of cyclists is coming through, Balaguer said. Event planners also would hire additional security or pay the extra salaries for police to monitor the narrow stretch if needed.”We understand the concerns of Open Space and Trails, but we’ve been on high-volume multiuse paths before,” Balaguer said, and organizers are experienced making courses safe. “It’s much more of a safety concern about riding on Highway 82 and crossing 82 to get on Lower River Road.” And riders won’t have to do that if they can take the Rio Grande Trail. The route changes each year, and the ride hasn’t come through Aspen since 1986, Balaguer said, mostly because of construction on Highway 82 and unpaved trails in the valley. “It’s what has kept us away,” he said.”It’s an honest disagreement over ways to proceed,” Balaguer said, saying the impasse is an unusual circumstance for planners, but “it’s just a matter of going through the process.”Ride the Rockies participants will spend the night in Aspen before heading to Leadville, and can camp at Aspen High School or stay in hotels.Ride the Rockies officials will go before the Aspen City Council Moday to ask for $10,000 in funding they say the city will quickly recoup in sales tax for lodging and dining for the 2,000 riders.Balaguer said the tour is restricted to 2,000 riders, and while there are some followers, they’re usually local day-riders he estimated at a hundred or so – not another 2,000.”From our standpoint, we are not upset with anybody,” Balaguer said. “I think the staff at Open Space is advocating their position. … It is not without grounds.”For more information on the event, visit http://www.ridetherockies.com.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
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