Sopris View trail could help prevent trespassing and wildland fire

Fire prevention and ongoing issues regarding illegal camps on private land on Glenwood Springs’ eastern flank might result in a new hiking trail above Walmart.

Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky presented at a Sept. 1 Glenwood Springs City Council meeting, proposing the city or county build a trail by Glenwood ditch behind Walmart to help prevent some of the homeless encampments, trash accumulation and fire danger. 

“From my perspective, it’s more important for me that we don’t have any more fires up there. That’s really where I’m coming from,” he said. “This has been put out as an opportunity to maybe have activity up there and make it less desirable for camping.”

Last year, the county spent more than $87,000 to clean up the area, Jankovsky said. Contractors working with the county’s Public Health Department cleared 60,000 pounds of trash, or 10 20-yard dumpsters worth. The county also removed more than 35 20-gallon propane cylinders and 200-300 small propane cylinders, as well as two 5-gallon buckets of hypodermic needles. 

“It was done under a health issue, and I’m here to talk about the fire issue, which is a safety issue,” Jankovsky said. 

The area is outside of Glenwood Springs city limits on private property in unincorporated Garfield County. The owner is absent and does not live in the county. 

Council Member Shelley Kaup and Jankovsky had met with the owner, David Forenza, last year to gain permission to place no-trespassing signs in the area. 

“He says he wants trespassers kept off there,” Jankovsky said. “You need to have a ranger go beyond those trails and make sure that people aren’t camping up there.”

Although Forenza wants to relinquish ownership of the land, possibly to the county, it could go to another nearby private-property owner. Jankovsky said that Bell Rippy, the apartment-complex development under construction nearby on Palmer Avenue, will have a developed open-space area. But, the owners do not want to fund, maintain, pay taxes or be liable for the trail itself, he said. 

“Our thought is, this landowner would like to transfer the land for tax benefits,” Jankovsky said.

Garfield County has $200,000 for trails and recreation like this but does not have a parks and recreation or trails department nor rangers, he said.

On Monday, county commissioners met in executive session to get legal advice on the potential pitfalls of a land transfer to the county.

“I’d like to bring this back home and get something done as a county on this issue,” Jankovsky said at the Monday meeting.

Following the executive session, he said the county will arrange for a work session to further discuss the issue, inviting the property owner, city representatives, the Glenwood Springs Fire Department, county health and Bureau of Land Management officials. 

“The current owner wants the land transfer to take place before the end of the year for tax purposes,” Kaup said at the Sept. 1 council meeting. 

Although city officials agree it would be easier to maintain the land with a dedicated parks department, the city struggles to maintain the trails they already have with the limited funding it has for trail maintenance. 

This will be an ongoing project that will require budgeted funding annually and a commitment the city is unable to promise right now. 

When Mayor Pro Tem Charlie Willman asked if the county would help the city fund maintenance annually. Jankovsky said that the $200,000 was mostly for development, not ongoing maintenance. 

Kaup moved to direct staff to find estimates as well as potential funding options and asked legal staff to complete the draft memorandum of understanding between all the interested parties — including Forenza, Four Points and Triumph, Aspen Valley Land Trust, Garfield County and the city— and have it brought back to council on Oct. 7.

“If you’re open to it, something needs to happen and it needs to happen within a year,” Jankovsky said.

Post Independent senior reporter John Stroud contributed to this report. 

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.