A Pitkin County open space plan — adopted by the commissioners last week — calls for years of trail, bridge and management projects for the Rio Grande Trail and its stretch of open space properties between Aspen and Woody Creek.
The Roaring Fork Gorge Management Plan includes projects that will begin this spring, with an estimated 2014 price tag just over $2 million.
The plan is the result of six months of research and public outreach that included eight open houses with user groups like bikers, anglers and neighbors. This massive long-range planning effort for the Roaring Fork River gorge between Jaffee Park and Stein Park began in February, after the county commissioners halted a plan to build a new pedestrian bridge linking the Rio Grande Trail and Aspen Airport Business Center.
The plan splits Rio Grande Trail paving and improvements into two phases.
The first phase, slated for summer 2014, includes adding 2 miles of dual-surface trail on the Woody Creek side of the gorge. Much like other sections of the trail between Aspen and Glenwood Springs, it will include paved and gravel portions, and single-track in some areas. Its estimated cost is $1.43 million. The county is sending out requests for proposals from contractors on the project, and expects to bring it back to the commissioners with a precise budget in March.
The scope of a second phase, tentatively slated for summer 2015, will depend on user feedback on the first portion. It deals with the remainder of the Rio Grande in the area, stretching from Shale Bluffs to Stein Park. Two options for the second phase are outlined in the plan: a $300,000 option would leave its soft surface in place and improve drainage, grading, and surfacing; a $3.5 million option would pave the trail, keep the gravel trail along 31 percent of it, and add railings along steep drop-offs. One public comment, from an open house with road bikers, included the note: “Coward rails are not needed.”
“We want to look at how it’s currently being used, and how people feel about the two possible options we’ve presented,” said Lindsey Utter, the county recreation planner who oversaw the Roaring Fork Gorge Management Plan and public outreach.
Utter said public outreach will continue, as the county makes decisions about the second phase of the Rio Grande improvements.
“We’re appreciative of all the public involvement and look forward to continuing that,” she said.
The first phase of trail improvements on the Rio Grande also includes a redesign of the connector trail between Jaffee Park and the Rio Grande, which is currently a steep soft-surface link. This spring, the county will reduce the trail’s grade and add a paved portion to the connection. The county is also evaluating potential for an alternate single track route linking Jaffee and the Rio Grande. Its estimated cost is $250,000.
In 2014, the county will repair old abutments on the Stein Bridge and raise it to clear the way for rafting and kayaking in high water. The low-clearance bridge has previously required boaters to portage around when the river runs high. The project’s estimated cost is $261,000. Utter said it will most likely break ground in autumn 2014.
A $25,000 update and expansion of the natural resource inventory for the area will begin this spring, tracking existing vegetation and wildlife for gorge properties. It will recommend future actions regarding natural resources in gorge. A river conservation plan is slated for development in summer 2015, along with ongoing work on stream flow and water quality.
The county is partnering with the city of Aspen this spring on a $25,000 study to evaluate ways to connect Burlingame Ranch to the Rio Grande.
An ongoing effort to develop sign guidelines throughout the corridor carries an estimated cost of $45,000 to $75,000 for 2014.
The plan also includes development of a new commercial fly-fishing guide permit system during summer of 2014 at a cost of $10,000. The county is forming a steering committee of local fishing guides and members of the public to determine how to permit commercial fishing on the river. A similar effort is already underway regarding special events, with the county’s open space and community development departments reviewing the permitting process for events that use Rio Grande and surrounding areas.
Longer term projects in the plan include a joint city-county redesign of Stein Park for summer 2015 that could include more parking, a longer boat launch season and permanent restrooms. A similar county project, also slated for summer 2015, targets Jaffee Park and could include a permanent restroom, handicap-accessible fishing access and trailer-designated parking. A soft-surface trail alignment is proposed for the AspenMass Trail, which connects the Brush Creek Trail to Jaffee Park, and is tentatively slated for spring 2017.
Tentative long-term plans for “climbing lanes” for road bikers traveling uphill on McLain Flats Road are also included. The lanes would allow bikers to ride in their own lane, on an extended shoulder of the road on the uphill portions on each of its ends, at an estimated cost of $4.1 million. The plan also raises the possibility of adding permanent fixtures for rock and ice climbing at Gold Butte.
In all, the 97-page master aims to guide management of seven county open space properties — Red Butte Ranch Open Space, Airport Ranch, Denver/Rio Grande Railroad Corridor, Mills Open Space, Stein Riverside Park, Gold Butte, and Jaffee Park — along with the city-administered, Aspen Valley Land Trust-owned Stein Park.
Utter said the county will continue to ask for input from locals on how to implement it and manage the popular areas in and around the river gorge.
“It’s in everyone’s backyard,” said Utter. “So we’ll continue to have public involvement.”