Aspen-to-Vail Pass bike trail inches closer to reality
Picture this — riding in one mammoth day from Aspen to Frisco, covering roughly 130 miles on paved trails restricted from vehicles.
Or imagine using Glenwood Springs as a hub for trips and overnight stays that could extend 88 miles to Frisco on one end and 42 miles to Aspen on the other.
The vision of completing paved bike paths between Aspen and Frisco is inching toward reality. The trails on both ends are complete. It’s the middle that’s lacking.
The Roaring Fork Valley already has the immensely popular 42-mile Rio Grande Trail running down its spine between Aspen and Glenwood Springs.
The Glenwood Canyon Trail has lured tourists to that spectacular setting for years. The 16-mile trail winds along the Colorado River under the high cliffs of the canyon.
Vail Pass is the only high mountain col in Colorado with paved bike paths on both approaches. It offers a 12.5-mile grunt from Vail to the summit of the pass as well as a 24-mile stretch on the east side to Frisco. (The paths are longer than the road route.)
The gap in paved trails exists on the 42.5-mile stretch between Dotsero, on the east end of Glenwood Canyon, and the town of Vail. About 19 miles of path is still missing in the valley floor, according to Ellie Caryl, program manager for ECO Trails Office. Eagle County government’s trails program is working to fill that gap. The missing links will be designed, Caryl said, so that construction can proceed as funding is secured.
Caryl said completing the paved Eagle Valley Trail won’t happen overnight. Eagle County has a ½-cent sales tax dedicated to mass transit and trails. The split is 90 percent for transit and 10 percent for trails, so it will take a while to accumulate the necessary funds. ECO Trails will also seek grants from sources such as Great Outdoors Colorado and stress the goal of filling in gaps, Caryl said.
But progress is taking place. A 2.2-mile stretch between Gypsum and Dotsero was dedicated on June 3. The biggest gap is a 14-mile stretch between Eagle and Edwards.
“It’s a long section and it’s going to be expensive,” Caryl said.
History shows it’s worth the expense. The Vail Pass, Glenwood Canyon and Rio Grande Trails are already destinations for visitors to the Colorado mountains, Caryl said.
Counters placed alongside the Rio Grande Trail on the east end of Carbondale show there are consistently 70,000 trail users per year, according to Brett Meredith, trails and corridor manager for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. He oversees the trail between Glenwood Springs and Emma.
A counter along Rock Bottom Ranch registers between 45,000 and 50,000 visitors per year, although it’s farther away from any town or hub. In addition, that stretch of the path is closed from Dec. 1 through April 30 for the benefit of wildlife. It’s so popular during the months it is open, Meredith said, because it is so scenic. The trail is along the Roaring Fork River and its wetlands to the north and the cliffs climbing into the public lands of The Crown to the south.
Meredith estimated that at least 75 percent of trail users are cyclists.
In the upper end of the valley, up to 1,000 users per day use the trail near Stein Park, according to Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails.
RFTA just installed a counter in Glenwood Springs, so user numbers aren’t available yet.
Kevin Horch, retail and rental manager for Sunlight Ski and Bike Shop in Glenwood Springs, said most of their customers prefer riding Glenwood Canyon rather than the Rio Grande Trail. They want to see the spectacular scenery of the canyon and ride along the Colorado River.
However, high water has closed the path in two sections this spring and summer. Sunlight has been hauling bike groups to the end of the Crystal Valley Trail at BRB Campground or Catherine Bridge for rides back to Glenwood Springs.
Horch said one party of returning customers has ridden Glenwood Canyon for the prior three years. They were forced to try to the Rio Grande Trail this year because of the other trail’s closure. They came back impressed and will now likely ride both trails on future visits.
The number of tourists coming to Glenwood Springs solely for cycling is still small, Horch said. A bike ride is among many experiences they are seeking. But there’s the potential for more bike-centric tourism.
“If they close those last gaps (in Eagle Valley) it opens a lot of doors,” Horch said. “If you can ride somewhere, people will.”
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