CB to CB South trail plan in the works

Planning firm developing exact location options this summer

By Katherine Nettles

Gunnison County is moving ahead with the design phase in a Crested Butte to Crested Butte South multimodal trail plan. Last week the valley’s Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation (STOR) committee gave its collective input to the design firm, Design Workshop, about the project’s challenges, their goals and possible ways to engage with those who will use it. If all goes well, a final design plan will be complete by this fall for presentation to and review by the community, and then the work of financing it and planning when to break ground can begin.

Design Workshop is based out of the Roaring Fork Valley, and its representatives Leah Stoltz, project manager, and Jessica Garrow, a principal and planner, provided an overview of the current work they are doing to move the project into action. 

Project timeline and phases

Garrow reviewed that the trail would be a hard surface, multi-modal path and it is currently in the project visioning and alignment phase.  She said the conceptual trail alignment phase will come next, and after that, hopefully in August or September, there will be a community open house in the Crested Butte area. Phases three and four would be to create an action plan and document preparation in the fall. 

“Community engagement is a key aspect,” said Garrow. “But there is no alignment yet and it’s important to get it right.”

Goals for the trail and how to achieve them

Stoltz said the alignment conceptualization is taking into consideration the floodplain and where development is possible. “There is a lot of open space,” she noted, which could be ideal and get the trail away from Highway 135 for safety and scenery, although in some cases acquiring that land would be unlikely or impossible.  “But there are alternatives of trail alignment in the [Highway 135] right of way,” she said, referring to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT)] owned highway shoulders. 

The firm then polled all meeting participants in an anonymous online format about what a successful project would look like, what challenges it would hold and who else should be involved. 

STOR committee members said their goals were to create a paved commuter trail; getting cyclists and multimodal travelers off the “dangerous highway;” creating a safe path that is respectful of wildlife and landowners; provide connectivity to other trail systems; and include uses for both summer and winter travel. 

Perceptions were that the trail would be used by recreationalists, students, commuters and visitors moving from one area to another. 

When asked how everyone envisioned getting to the finished product, committee members answered that it was important to get legal access to critical spots; to include community engagement; that the project be on time and on budget; that it be respectful between all involved; that it use multiple financial resources; and that there be strong collaboration among all stakeholders.

The group answered that potential issues they could foresee would be dogs; agricultural operations; land access/easements, crossing Brush Creek Road; connecting to the Crested Butte South neighborhood; and managing berms, cattle, snowplows and human waste, among others.  

The group had a discussion about including e-bikes, determining that they would most likely be allowed and that they would be essential for the otherwise lengthy commute between towns and getting more people off the highway. 

“Getting the physical access to land if we are moving out of the [highway] right of way will be a real challenge,” said Ian Billick, a representative to the committee as mayor of Crested Butte. 

Mt. Crested Butte town council member Roman Kolodziej suggested fencing in the trail could reduce cattle/user conflict, although he conceded that it would be expensive and an ongoing maintenance issue. 

“I think communicating the realities of what trail is possible as opposed to what people expect will be a major challenge. There could be a bit of a backlash if a trail gets implemented because of unrealistic expectations,” commented Billick. He later expanded on that notion as people all wanting a trail right to their backyard, and being disappointed when it proved impossible.

“We gotta be able to skate ski/Nordic ski it!” commented Dave Ochs, a member of the STOR committee as director of Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association and Crested Butte Conservation Corps. 

Gunnison County assistant county manager for community and economic development Cathie Pagano said that there have already been meetings with land owners and stakeholders about places where private land would be key in building a successful trail. She said further talks were planned for this week as well.

There was also a discussion of how to create or strengthen existing commuter lots, parking areas, bus stops and other central meeting locations such as the Crested Butte Community School, Brush Creek, the Whetstone Community Housing project and Riverland. Billick suggested that connecting the rec path between Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte would be useful and suggested there be consideration of access points along the way of the new trail. 

Next steps

The firm will take the input they gathered from the STOR Committee members along with input they will collect from other focus groups and stakeholder interviews throughout June into consideration as they move toward trail alignment concepts. They intend to perform a drone survey of the project’s potential path in June, and begin doing the technical work of more detailed surveying, mapping and learning “what is possible,” according to Stoltz, in July and August. This will include crafting some alternatives to bring to the community for the open house in late August or early September. 

The project website, which the firm says will become more active and stay up to date, can be found at gunnisoncounty.org/1048/Crested-Butte-to-Crested-Butte-South-mul.

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