County and CB willing to help but not top priority
By Mark Reaman & Crystal kotowski
While willing to help facilitate the completion of an 83-mile Carbondale-to-Crested Butte trail, local officials appear lukewarm about putting a lot of effort and focus into the idea. Representatives from the Pitkin County side of the trail met with Gunnison County and town of Crested Butte officials earlier this month to update them on progress.
The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails department received a $100,000 planning grant for the project from Great Outdoors Colorado.
Crested Butte town planner Michael Yerman said a lot of the pieces are already in place on this side of the project. “We have some of the trail done already on our side,” he said. “The Wagon Trail is an example. Most of the trail alignments are set and the trail is part of the Forest Service travel management plan. We are looking at trail alignment from Lost Lake to the top of Kebler.”
Yerman said the key from the Crested Butte perspective was to get the planning and any federal review process like NEPA out of the way so that when grants for the trail become available, they can be applied for quickly. “We have opportunity and a partner over in Pitkin County to go through the process,” he told the Town Council at a work session on February 6. “The whole project is really probably a 20-year project.”
Yerman said the big difference between the Pitkin County side and the Gunnison County side is that Pitkin County is looking at a wide, paved trail, while locally the trail is primarily single track. He said planning would focus on filling in the gaps between existing trails and current trail alignments. “The goal is to define a complete preferred route location in both Pitkin and Gunnison counties by the end of 2017,” he said.
“We understandably probably have other trail priorities here but there is a chance to move forward with the planning on this project,” Yerman said. “We are also positioning ourselves well to go after GOCO funding.”
Pitkin County Open Space and Trail assistant director Gary Tennenbaum told the council such long-distance trails are a community asset and a way to diversify the economies of tourist towns. “Bike packing is growing, for example,” he said. “Connecting communities through trails and not just roads is important. The governor sees this sort of project as an economic boost for recreation-based economies. You have to look big sometimes and connecting communities is another asset. We want to show that this is a partnership and we are working together on this.”
“I’m excited about the project and hope it doesn’t take 20 years,” said mayor Glenn Michel.
Tennenbaum told the Gunnison County commissioners that the NEPA process would be much less expensive than they expected, as part of the trail has already been incorporated into the Forest Service’s travel management plan and the Paonia Ranger District is doing a lot of the work, not using third-party consultants.
“The connection between the two really different communities is a unique option, but we’ve shared with you that we have a limited amount of resources. We want to support your endeavors, like we did supporting the grant application,” said Gunnison County commissioner Jonathan Houck, asking Tennenbaum if Pitkin County Open Space and Trails would be seeking funding from Gunnison County for trail development.
Tennenbaum said their funding requests had not been determined yet. “We’re really here just to give you an update and keep this moving forward… We know that this might not be the top priority for you guys… but if we’re all in this together, we know we can find funding.”
“I think that we’re going to be seeing more proposals like this, with trails that are connecting communities,” added Houck.
“You hit the exact reason why the governor did this—economic development,” agreed Tennenbaum.
“I think that’s the way we look at it—what makes the biggest economic impact, the biggest quality of life impact—and that’s how you develop the priorities,” commissioner John Messner concluded.
Comments from the public on the trail will be accepted until February 24. To share your thoughts, visit http://www.pitkinostprojects.com.