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Deciding which trail to take

At the recent 2005 Regional Trails Summit, held at the Glenwood Springs Community Center, long-range planning for a Three Rivers Trails system was presented. The plan envisions a future trail from Carbondale to Redstone and someday all the way to Crested Butte, and a trail running west along Interstate 70 and the Colorado River to South Canyon, and ultimately to Parachute and beyond, as well as completion of the trail along the Roaring Fork River from Basalt to Glenwood Springs. Agencies actively involved in the Roaring Fork and Crystal River Valley trails include the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and Pitkin County Open Space and Trails.No one seems to question the recreational opportunities that these trails would provide, or the economic benefits of such a system, but as usual, the devil is in the details. Along the Roaring Fork, a conflict over the use of the railroad right of way has arisen between trail and rail proponents. And in the Crystal River Valley the location of a portion of the trail has become an environmental issue.The Roaring Fork battle is over how to accommodate both rail and trail within the right of way. In certain sections, conditions make building the trail adjacent to the tracks very expensive, so the trail supporters would like to build the trail on the rail bed. RFTA has proposed removing the rails and ties, and using the $1 million salvage value of the rails to help pay for completion of the trail.This has struck horror into the hearts of rail supporters, who fear that removal of the rails would destroy any chance of ever resuming rail service from Glenwood Springs to Aspen. But let’s look at the realities of this concern.The present road bed is more than 100 years old, and was designed for rail speeds of about 20 mph, so it would require major reconstruction to allow high-speed commuter service. The present trackage is in poor condition, and will require complete replacement if commuter rail service ever becomes economically feasible. Even rail enthusiasts acknowledge that this may be decades away. So the question becomes, why should the construction of a trail which could be used by thousands of people be held hostage for decades for a dream which very likely may never materialize? The rails are really nothing more than a bit of nostalgia spawning a fond dream of the future.In the Crystal River Valley, the trail is proposed to be located adjacent to the east side of Highway 133, except for about four miles north of the town of Redstone, where a location along the route of the old Crystal Valley Railroad across the river from Highway 133 is being proposed. There are several reasons why this is a bad location. A trail east of the Crystal River would disturb sensitive bighorn habitat and would have to be closed from July 1 through mid-November, which is half of the nine months of planned trail use. The Colorado Division of Wildlife has gone on record opposing a trail in this location, citing the adverse impact on the bighorn population, and the impossibility of enforcing compliance with the seasonal closure. Putting this portion of the trail on the east side of the river would require two bridges and some expensive construction where rock cliffs come close to the river. Furthermore, it would be necessary to build a parallel trail along Highway 133 for use during the four and a half months during the summer when the trail on the other side of the river is closed. Why not build just one trail in the right location – adjacent to Highway 133?Thumbs up for the trail in the Roaring Fork railroad right of way and a big thumbs down for building the north-of-Redstone portion of the Crystal River Valley trail east of the Crystal River.Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.


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