Pitkin County officials say it could take ‘decades’ to build Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail | SummitDaily.com

Pitkin County officials say it could take ‘decades’ to build Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail

Scott Condon Aspen Times

The Crystal Valley opens up in this perspective from half way up the cut of McClure Pass. Explorer Ferdinand Hayden saw evidence of an Indian trail in the valley in 1873.

A heavy dose of reality was injected into the planning for the proposed Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail on Tuesday when Pitkin County officials talked about the expense and who will pay.

Members of the open space board of directors and county commission made it clear during a joint meeting that the trail will have to be phased in for financial reasons even if environmental, political and engineering challenges can be overcome.

“We’re not talking about having this done in months or years but decades,” Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman said.

Open space board member Graeme Means drilled into the numbers of the trail. The property tax for the open space program currently hauls in about $8.3 million per year. The open space program is limited to spending between 10 percent and 40 percent of its annual revenue on trails, Means said. Assuming it spends something in the middle, like 25 percent, on the Crystal Valley trail, that would generate less than $2 million annually.

“The cost is going to be substantial here,” Means said. “I think we need to get more real on the money side.”

The focus of the debate thus far has been on the political and environmental side. Some Crystal Valley residents oppose granting easements through subdivisions or private lots for the trail. Environmentalists are raising red flags about any potential alignment on the east side of the Crystal River. They want the trail to hug the Highway 133 corridor.

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While those concerns likely will continue to dominate the debate, Tuesday showed cost may be the trail’s undoing. The commissioners and open space board members directed the open space staff to produce an estimated range of costs of building the trail from BRB Cabins and Campground, about 5 miles south of Carbondale, to the county line at the top of McClure Pass, a distance of about 20 miles.

A feasibility study by the open space program breaks that trail corridor into 20 segments and thoroughly examines engineering and environmental and their effects on cost. The two boards want all expense issues laid out in the big picture along with potential funding partners.

In some cases, pursuing a more environmentally friendly alignment alternative sends the cost soaring. For example, if the trail followed the abandoned railroad grade on the east side of the Crystal River through 1.18 miles of Filoha Meadows Nature Preserve, construction would cost about $1.46 million. However, there is widespread support for leaving the meadow untouched. Putting the trail on the west side of the river by the highway would drive the cost up to $10.47 million because of engineering challenges.

It’s a safe bet that trail opponents know that lobbying for the more expensive alternatives on each segment makes the trail more difficult to achieve.

Realistically, the trail likely will have to be constructed in phases, open space director Gary Tennenbaum said. For example, the stretch from Redstone to the summit of McClure Pass has generated less controversy than most of the stretch north of Redstone.

Great Outdoors Colorado, which gives grants from state lottery revenue to outdoor projects, will be looked at for funding help.

If a phased approach is pursued, anything that is built must function as a stand-alone trail, such as the segment from Redstone to McClure Pass, Tennenbaum said. The program doesn’t want to build so-called trails to nowhere.

Commissioner Steve Child said the county might consider building a narrow dirt path along the entire corridor to start, then work on widening and paving segments as issues get resolved and funds become available.

The commissioners and open space board will meet against April 12 to discuss costs and go over staff recommendations for alignment on several of the segments. The county’s goal is to get the draft plan for the project ready for public comment by May.