Fremont Recpath receives $4 million in federal funds for construction | SummitDaily.com

Fremont Recpath receives $4 million in federal funds for construction

Summit County just landed a major, $4 million boost from the U.S. Department of Transportation to help pay for a recreation path extension that will take bikers and hikers from Copper Mountain to Fremont Pass toward Leadville.

The 3-mile stretch adjacent to the Climax molybdenum mine was identified by Gov. John Hickenlooper as one of his 16 high-priority trail gap projects in 2016, and as of last Thursday, the feds are anteing up to help make it a reality. The financial commitment from the nation's highway administration, in the form of a Federal Lands Access Program grant, should now see full completion of the undertaking — including a new overpass across State Highway 91 — as soon as late 2020.

The county had previously requested $2 million from Great Outdoors Colorado, the state organization established to fund outdoor recreation and preserve natural lands through a portion of lottery dollars, toward the project, but learned it did not get the green light on that this past October. The FLAP funding came through last week, however, following a competitive application process for a pot of $66 million among 31 contenders, and now the pathway will be built entirely by federal construction crews over the next three or four years.

"We sort of hand it off to them, so that's great," said county manager Scott Vargo. "It's a corridor of importance in the state, and that stretch of road — we call it 'The Narrows' — is clearly one of the most dangerous portions of the roadway for bicyclists. To be able to create a pathway that is separated from the road there and provide a much safer experience for folks is great."

The total construction cost is estimated at about $5.35 million, which the county will help cover in a 75-25 split by shelling out $1.33 million from its own pocket toward the project. Vargo anticipated a portion of that money will be paid for with open space and trails reserves, though the county will attempt to offset some of that expense from other state sources, perhaps even some future Great Outdoors money. Summit previously received $75,000 from lottery funds to help pay for conceptual planning and early environmental analysis work.

As for an expected timeline, the county hopes to secure a special-use permit for the designated land in 2018, finalize design work in 2019 and then both settle the contracts and begin construction in summer 2020. Depending on how quickly the National Environmental Policy Act review process can be wrapped up, the current plan sees completion by the end of that year, or early 2021.

Two potential hurdles for the project mentioned in the initial environmental impact documents filed by the U.S. Forest Service are possible conflicts with known electronic-collared lynx who use the swath of land as habitat, in addition to protected wetlands in sections of the strip. The county says it intends to mitigate those issues to spec, making improvements to the area rather than diminishing those ecological features. Ultimately the hope is to strike a balance between the project's recreational opportunities, safety and environmental benefits.

"It's a key link," said Brian Lorch, director of the county's open space and trails department. "Having that interconnectedness helps to start making regional connections to other communities. To have a paved pathway all the way around (the county), and connecting the system into Lake County at the Mineral Trail into Leadville will make for a safer, enjoyable experience for recpath users."

The thought is that passing the path's development off to a federal agency should also help make the review process a little smoother, as well as ensure all boxes of the process get properly checked. Gaining the benefits of the trail's completion without all of the internal planning and fundraising is seen as a pretty good deal, too.

"To be able to get funding and to get somebody that will take on the construction piece, but also really take on the environmental assessment work and all that stuff, is ideal," said Vargo. "It's really fantastic news."