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The Crested Butte to Carbondale Trail inches closer to reality

First segment of the trail is “fairly shovel-ready”

By Toni Todd

What at one time appeared to be a fanciful notion—a single-track trail from Crested Butte to Carbondale—may become possible sooner than originally envisioned. Certainly, there are still years of work ahead, but some progress has been made toward creation of a prospective route. The town of Crested Butte has been working to assess this end of the trail, and has been engaged with Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails (PCOS&T) planning and assessment efforts on the other end.

“They found a lot of historical trail that they think they can use,” Crested Butte’s open space and Creative District coordinator Hilary Henry told Gunnison county commissioners Tuesday. “So, they think it’s going to be fairly minimal construction.”

When completed, the trail will pass through roughly 83 miles of pristine Rocky Mountain scenery. It will also connect to several other local trails in the area, providing additional access for travelers in a way that helps them avoid traveling alongside cars on Kebler Pass Road.

One caveat: “It’s important for people to understand that segments of this trail will be difficult to ride,” said assistant county manager Marlene Crosby.

The Carbondale to Crested Butte Trail is one of 16 trail projects across Colorado that was chosen for a statewide trails initiative called Colorado’s 16. Subsequently, Great Outdoors Colorado in December 2016 awarded a $100,000 grant to the planning phase for this trail. In addition, the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails website budgeted $200,000 in 2017 for the planning, which included engineering and natural resource studies.

The first Crested Butte-side section of the trail begins near the Anthracite Creek bridge. That segment, said Harvey, was already a part of the GMUG travel plan and has already secured NEPA approval. Henry said the second section could be NEPA-approved by this next spring. “This trail is fairly shovel-ready. For us to support it and help move the process along, it really has a lot of momentum behind it, but it doesn’t have to come at the expense of something else.”

Commissioners were supportive of the idea. Commissioner Jonathan Houck noted that commissioners have both spoken with Pitkin County officials and written a letter of support for the project.

“I’m supportive of doing it because it’s another way of spreading the impacts,” added commissioner Phil Chamberland.

Henry said the idea now is to hold open house meetings to introduce the idea to the public and gather ideas and comments. “We’re ready for that,” she said, “but Pitkin County isn’t ready for that.” Figuring out alignment on the Pitkin County side, said Henry, is more complicated. That’s due to both challenging topography and conflicting viewpoints on the route the trail should take.

Even so, Henry said, Pitkin officials are confident they can resolve those issues and are excited about the trail. According to the PCOS&T website, their preliminary planning and assessment efforts were unveiled at a pair of well-attended public presentations, September 6 in Redstone and September 7 in Carbondale.

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