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Silverthorne’s Blue River trail has fans, foes

Janice Kurbjun
summit daily news
Summit Daily/Janice Kurbjun
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Conflict surrounding the construction of the Blue River Trail’s next segment in Silverthorne, along the east bank of the river beside Mesa Drive, has people on both sides of the fence.

Property owners whose land and views are affected by the proposed trail are pitted against the results of a town-conducted survey that shows the trail as a highly-desired amenity for area residents.

The trail, estimated at about $1.6 million before bids, is meant to connect the town’s neighborhoods, breaching divisions created by the Blue River and Colorado Highway 9. Approximately $700,000 is funded through a Great Outdoors Colorado grant and private contributions, with the remainder of the project being funded from the lodging tax and excise tax funds.

The trail’s latest proposed segment currently faces litigation, with plaintiffs claiming the town’s existing easement through their property doesn’t grant permission to build a trail of the proposed magnitude and intended uses. The town argues that right does exist. It’s up to a judge to interpret the language and issue a ruling.

In the meantime, the plaintiffs have filed for a preliminary injunction while the case plays out. A hearing for the motion is slated for 9 a.m. June 24 at the district court in Breckenridge. The court has reserved a full day for the proceedings.

In seven surveys since 1992, extending bike trails emerged as a priority for recreational improvements for residents, up there with acquiring open space. Questionnaires were meant to help the town meet the needs and desires of its residential and business community.

Those who responded to the surveys (ranging from 28 percent response rate to about 40 percent response rate), also commented about encouraging a “family-oriented community that provides year-round employment” and support for a town recreation center, undergrounding utilities and constructing sidewalks (identified as the No. 1 capital improvement project in 1992). Traffic congestion and synchronizing traffic signals were among other concerns illuminated through the years.

The latest survey, in 2007, saw the need for more trails ranked seventh behind other town improvements beyond recreation, such as more public parking, putting utility lines underground, affordable housing, making improvement in business core areas and developing parks.

Opponents of the trail segment under contention cite concerns about wetlands, privacy, intrusion, effects on the fishery, tree removal and the scenery of the existing dirt trail being demolished.

“The natural feel here is going to be gone,” Mesa Drive resident Laura Lyddy said. “Most people don’t understand it.”

She also says the proposed trail use is “just too many people,” with an estimated several thousand people using the trail system on weekends in the height of the summer season.

Lyddy and other lawsuit plaintiffs have suggested alternatives, such as painting a bike lane on Mesa Drive and diverting bicycle traffic from pedestrian traffic.

But town officials cite safety concerns and that the right of way along the road isn’t wide enough to designate a bike path and fulfill transportation regulations. Nor does it address the “Blue River experience,” community development director Mark Leidal said, which is a primary goal of the trail system plan.

Lyddy would also be OK with a gravel path, she said, as long as it’s not pavement. But the town would need to take on the liability of the easements through which the trail passes, easements she’s not willing to give away.

“Please just leave it alone,” said Lyddy, who plans to educate those who regularly use the trail on what’s happening. “It’s getting a lot of great use from the locals.”

Another alternative would be building on the west side of the river, Lyddy said, but the town doesn’t currently own the appropriate easements.

That’s an option Alpine Earth Center owner Jon Harrington finds most ideal, because for 16 years, he’s been waiting to see the riverfront mixed-use district be developed into a business-friendly area.

“I expected it to be multi-use,” he said. “I expected to be a standalone business for awhile, but that there would be some sort of economic vitality over time. I’m still the only guy.”

As the former operations supervisor for the San Antonio Riverwalk, Harrington provided an easement when building the earth center, recognizing the potential benefit of a riverside path connecting the business community. His and the Retreat on the Blue River properties are the only easements currently in town possession on the west bank.

Community development director Mark Leidal said the town could purchase the easements to the west of the river, but it’s a cost-juggling issue, as they’ll eventually acquire them as redevelopment of the west bank occurs (town code requires developers to release a riverside easement as a condition of their work). Meanwhile, the eastern easement is already in town possession, he said.

“It’s disappointing that they think they’re going the easy route instead of going with what I think should be done, which is connect riverfront mixed use properties,” Harrington said.


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