The city government should partner with the county to fund safety improvements on the 4-mile unpaved section of the Rio Grande Trail, Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland said in a work session on Tuesday.
The county is considering different options to create a hard-surface connection through the currently unpaved section of the trail, which goes from Woody Creek to Stein Park in Aspen. One option would improve the entire 4 miles with a dual surface of compressed gravel and pavement. It would cost about $6.1 million. About $1.3 million would be spent installing guard rails for safety.
The 42-mile Rio Grande Trail, a former railroad corridor running from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, was originally purchased with funds from multiple jurisdictions, including the city of Aspen, Ireland said. The trail is a vital amenity to the community and the city shares in the county’s responsibility to improve it, he said.
The city should support the project both conceptually and financially, Ireland said.
“I think we need to express support for the concept that people can ride their bikes ... down to Woody Creek,” Ireland said.
Earlier this month, county commissioners put the brakes on a concept that would create a hard-surface trail into town by building a pedestrian bridge over the Roaring Fork River in the middle of the unpaved section. The bridge would connect the Rio Grande Trail with the Aspen Airport Business Center and existing bike paths along Highway 82.
The project would cost about $6.2 million and include a new 2-mile dual surface of compressed gravel and pavement on the Rio Grande between where the trail crosses McLain Flats Road and just before the Shale Bluffs canyon.
The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board and staff had recommended exploring the bridge option further by spending $290,000 on an engineering feasibility study.
Regardless of whether the county chooses to build a bridge, the safety upgrades to the trail should be made, Ireland said.
“The notion that [the trail] needs to remain unimproved ... to me is kind of appalling,” Ireland said.
City parks department director Jeff Woods said that the city’s Open Space and Trails Board supports the notion of safety and accessibility improvements. Until now, the city’s board has only been peripherally involved with the county’s project, Woods said.
In light of the mayor’s comments, Woods plans to meet with Dale Will, the county’s open space director, to discuss the city’s options for supporting the county project. Those ideas will likely be brought back to City Council for a vote in a future work session.