Trail users should rally to open Prehm access
Remarkably, the Garfield County commissioners have reopened the door for the county to secure a priceless recreational asset.
Now it’s time for trail advocates in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs to speak out, loud and clear, to convince the commissioners that this asset is worth fighting for.
The asset is a through route for walkers, cyclists and horseback riders running all the way from Glenwood Springs to Carbondale on the west side of the Roaring Fork River – away from Highway 82 and the rail corridor.
Most of the route is already open to the public. County Road 109 runs from Carbondale north, and public roads through the Westbank subdivision continue the way. From Glenwood Springs, Airport Road (116 Road) and part of Prehm Road (163 Road) run south toward Carbondale.
But the way is blocked by a mile-long stretch of 163 Road through the Prehm Ranch, now owned by Marlin Colorado Ltd., developers of an upscale fishing resort subdivision.
Marlin wants to keep the route closed to the public. On the other hand, and in direct violation of orders from the county commissioners, the developer extended the road south to connect with Westbank for the exclusive vehicular use of Prehm Ranch lot owners.
Wisely, the county commissioners sued the developer, and the subsequent fight entangled Westbank homeowners in the controversy.
Marlin’s crafty attorney argued forcefully that the county had no claim on the right-of-way, and scared Westbank residents with the specter of endless legal fees.
In April, following a contentious public hearing over a proposed three-way settlement, the commissioners voted 2-1 to approve Marlin’s limited-use access through Westbank and to vacate a legitimate county right-of-way through Prehm Ranch.
In short, the commissioners wimped out in the face of a monster legal battle, taking the cheap way out and walking away from a one-time opportunity to secure public trail access through Prehm Ranch.
But the settlement hasn’t yet been signed.
As the parties argued over settlement details, activists behind the scenes have quietly convinced the commissioners to reconsider.
A week ago, the commissioners agreed to reopen the public hearing on the issue, and set an Aug. 19 date for the discussion.
Trail advocates should waste no time rallying support for non-motorized public access on the county’s right-of-way through Prehm Ranch.
The Garfield County commissioners need to know they have widespread public support for public trail access, because it won’t be easy to convince Marlin to allow the rag-tag public to walk or ride through the subdivision.
Marlin may agree to a revised settlement offer recognizing the county’s legitimate claim to public access. A good neighbor would do so, and Marlin should know that its public image rests on this issue.
But the developer could also refuse, setting up the county government for what could be a costly legal battle. It would be a shame to spend taxpayer dollars to defend broad public interest, but if that’s what it takes, the commissioners should not hesitate this time.
Opening County Road 163 through Prehm Ranch for non-motorized public access is an opportunity that will never arise again.
And in our narrow valley, no other Glenwood Springs-to-Carbondale route can offer the seclusion and safety for walkers, runners, cyclists and horseback riders.
It is a priceless asset that should be secured for the benefit of residents and visitors, and for generations to come.
– Heather McGregor
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