Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails Board on Thursday moved forward with an approval of Redstone’s Elk Park redesign, which locals are hoping will be the key to saving the town’s economic vitality.
Elk Park is located between Highway 133 and the Crystal River, across the street from Redstone Coke Ovens Historic Park, which was restored in 2011. Upgrades to the park include an open green space, more trees, a new parking lot and a redesign of an open-air visitor center called the depot, after the former train depot that existed in nearly the same location.
The plan aims to create a seamless corridor of pedestrian-friendly open space running from Redstone Boulevard and across the Crystal River to the coke ovens park, creating what locals have called a new “entrance to Redstone” that will direct tourists to the town.
“I think you will see this will be one of the signature stops [of the West Elk Scenic Byway],” said Ryan Vugteveen, principal and landscape architect at the firm Bluegreen, referring to the scenic drive between Carbondale and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
The coke ovens have attracted curious passers-by, who pull over and tour the area, said Cathy Montgomery, who is the vice president of Redstone’s Community Association board. The redesigned Elk Park will hopefully magnify that effect and in turn draw more tourists to businesses in Redstone, she said.
Redstone’s businesses have been struggling since the Great Recession and could use additional support from the county government, she said.
“Our little town needs help,” she said. “We don’t want it to die.”
Chuck Downey, a Redstone local who attended the meeting, complimented the design team for working with the community and noted that the project is one final push by the county government to bring more tourists to town.
“I feel comfortable that this [project] represents the will of the people over there and of the business community,” Downey said. “I think this is the last thing to be done to help them out and I think they need help.”
Lisa Wagner, owner of Crystal Dreams Bed and Breakfast, acknowledged that the past three summer seasons have been strong for her, but her business still struggles during the winter months, when it is hard for the town to compete with Aspen, she said. Redstone’s new entrance will hopefully change that, she said.
The Redstone community doesn’t have a way to track if tourists who stop in the park head into town to shop, but the perception is that they will, Montgomery said.
“It could make a big difference,” Montgomery said of the park.
Board member Howie Mallory expressed concerns about how tourists will cross the highway from the coke ovens to Elk Park, because there is not a crosswalk or stop light and the speed limit is 50 mph along the stretch.
“There’s going to be a major highway between attractions,” Mallory said. “People are going to want to cross the street.”
County recreational planner Lindsey Utter said that the Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) policy on the issue is complicated.
“CDOT’s position on this is ... ” Utter said with a pause.
“Run fast?” Mallory asked.
Utter laughed but said that essentially is CDOT’s answer. The state agency generally doesn’t like putting crosswalks on highways.
Getting CDOT to reduce the speed limit on the stretch is also unlikely, because such limits are dictated by the average speed of drivers on the road, Mallory said. If CDOT were asked to reconsider the speed limit on the stretch, it might end up increasing it, he added.
Gary Tennenbaum, county stewardship and trails manager, noted that the section where tourists would cross has the benefit of being straight with no blind spots to put people in harm’s way. There’s no simple solution to the problem, he added.
“The reality is that people sometimes have to take responsibility crossing [the street],” he said.
Elk Park’s upgrades have been in the works since 2010 after the county open space department won a federal Scenic Byway Grant of $129,000 for it. The project will likely be done in two phases, which together are estimated to cost $580,000. Starting in the spring, the first phase of the depot will be built and the second phase, which will consist of green space and the parking lot, will follow.
The county board was ready to approve the project in its first review on Wednesday, but pushed the final decision to Dec. 18 for the sake of following county procedure.