May 14 walk through slated
By John Colson
Sopris Sun Correspondent
Only one thing is certain about the ongoing controversy surrounding Garfield County Road 106 as it passes through Colorado Rocky Mountain School outside Carbondale — there will be at least two more meetings before the county commissioners decide what the future of the historic right of way is to look like.
Those meetings will be a May 14 “walk-through” of the campus by the county commissioners, county staff and others taking part in the debate over the old roadway, and a second meeting on May 18 that at least one county commissioner hopes will be the last time the county has to deal with this issue.
“I’m tired of this, and I don’t want it coming back before us again in a year or two,” said Commissioner Mike Samson at a meeting about the road dispute on May 4 in Glenwood Springs.
At that meeting, the commissioners heard nearly two and a half hours of testimony from different quarters in the dispute, including representatives of the school interested in limiting public travel on the right of way as much as possible, neighbors from the unincorporated neighborhood of Satank to the north and others, who are just as interested in keeping the right-of-way open to use by as many members of the public as want to use it.
“When it comes to a trail through the campus, we feel like we need to be on record that the school opposes any trail improvements or signage that would draw attention to the existence of the right of way,” said Joe White, finance director for the school, at the meeting.
But River Valley Ranch resident Sue Edelstein said she feels the debate surrounding CR106 amounts to “a county-wide land use issue” and that she believes the school is attempting to close the road to public use in spite of a county decision to keep it open for anything but motorized vehicles.
“It appears CRMS has escalated its actions to secure and occupy the right-of-way,” she told the commissioners. “It’s almost as if they are trying to force us to trespass” onto school property, by creating a redesigned entrance at the school’s southern boundary that lies outside the old right-of-way.
The right-of-way, which dates back to the 1800s as a county road, originally connected Carbondale to the Satank community and to a historic bridge (known as the Pink Bridge) over the Roaring Fork River that lead to an intersection with State Highway 82. Prior to construction of Highway 133, it was the primary route for automotive traffic traveling between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.
The school, founded in 1953, was built on both sides of CR106, but the road stayed open to motorized traffic for more than two decades.
The road was closed to motorized traffic in 1979 at the request of the school, which made the request based on claims that the security of the students and teachers is jeopardized by having a road cut through the campus.
The county agreed, but kept the public right of way as a route for pedestrian and bicycle traffic between Satank, Carbondale and roads leading either up into Thompson Creek or toward Glenwood Springs.
The school offered to build an alternate route between Satank and Highway 133, known as Dolores Way, which became the Satank neighborhood’s only vehicular link to the outside world when the Pink Bridge was declared unsafe and closed to auto traffic in the late 1980s.
The current dispute began essentially last year, when the county, for the second time, rejected a CRMS request to vacate the road and turn the underlying land back over to the school for its use. The first unsuccessful request had been made four years earlier.
At the May 4 meeting, two of the three commissioners — Samson and board chair John Martin — appeared disposed to keep things as they are, retaining the easement and perhaps make it a formal foot and bicycle trail with signs and other improvements, as has been requested by Satank residents and others.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, however, appeared to be leaning toward the school’s view of the issue, maintaining that any resolution should be a compromise.
“It has to go both ways,” he said, referring to a need to satisfy the desires of both the school and the general public.
Again, it was Samson who most strongly expressed a preference to keep the right-of-way in place, saying, “The people have the right to that right-of-way, and not to be hassled or anything else.”
Samson also noted that, while he sympathized with the school’s claims that the matter is a question of the security and safety of the students and the staff, he questioned whether those claims justified the closing of the road to public use.
Samson indicated that he agreed with Satank resident Teresa Salvadore, who compared the CRMS situation to another noted private prep school, Philip Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, which she said has “an open campus” that is bisected by three roads.
“It can be done,” she said. “There are ways (to) guard their campus” without closing CR106.
“I don’t see any terrible imminent threat because people are allowed through the present, preserved right-of-way, that would be an inherent danger” to the school, Samson said.
He also expressed disappointment at being told that the school had made no move to sit down with its neighbors and talk things over after last year’s decision to retain the right of way, despite direction from the BOCC that such talks must take place.
On May 14, the three commissioners will meet at CRMS with representatives of the school, any members of the public that show up and some county staff members, to walk along the right-of-way.
As part of their deliberations, the commissioners have said they will consider a proposal to narrow the right-of-way as it passes through the campus, which currently is approximately 60-feet wide.
The commissioners also will walk the entire length of the right-of-way, inspecting work done at both the northern end and the southern end of the route.
To date, that work has included the rerouting of the historic southern entrance from CR106 onto school grounds, and installation of a two-rail wooden fence and the foundation for a new school sign, installations that the commissioners and county staff say are located in the right-of-way itself.
At the northern end, where the right-of-way meets Dolores Way, the school has erected a large, earthen berm on part of the old right-of-way, which school officials have said was needed to prevent headlights from shining into the windows of nearby school housing.
Critics, however, maintain that the work at both ends of the right-of-way actually is part of the school’s efforts to close off public use of the right-of-way despite the county’s support of continued public use.
The commissioners asked about having the right-of-way marked by stakes, to aid in determining where the route is now and how it might be modified.
Engineer Yancy Nichol of Sopris Engineering, who was at the table with CRMS representative Joe White, said he has a current survey of the road right-of-way, and that the road can be staked out prior to the May 14 meeting.
Published in The Sopris Sun on May 7, 2015.