By John Colson
Sopris Sun Correspondent
If all goes according to plan, the controversy over use of the old Garfield County Road 106 as it passes through the Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS) will soon be a thing of the past.
But that outcome depends on the deliberations of a working group set up by the Garfield County Board of County Commissioners, at a meeting on May 18 at which representatives of the school, neighboring parts of the county and county staffers gave another round of testimony about an issue that goes back more than 35 years.
“I think there’s a lot of common ground between the two parties,” said Commissioner Mike Samson at the meeting, after the school made the first conciliatory gesture in acceding to a proposal that the right-of-way become a marked, designated trail for pedestrians, bicyclists and equestrians.
That had been the primary goal of neighbors concerned that the school was hoping to shut down public use of the right-of-way by making changes at the northern and southern end of its path through the campus, changes that have included construction of a cinder-block “monument” in the middle of the right-of-way, which is to form the core of a river-rock pillar and sign, similar to pillars further inside the campus property that have marked the school’s entry for years.
Another change came at the northern end of the campus, where the right-of-way once led to a historic bridge over the Roaring Fork River and a junction with Highway 82.
At that northern campus boundary, what once was a road had become a narrow, gravel path leading into the campus, hemmed in by a school-built berm on one side and a collection of large, cylindrical hay bales on the other side.
Now that the school has agreed to formal designation of the trail, under the commissioners’ direction, it is up to the working group to work out the details and present a proposal to the BOCC at a meeting on June 15.
“They need to hammer this out, and compromise on certain points,” Samson said of the work facing the group
The CR106 right-of-way, which once was a main route for traffic between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, was closed to vehicular traffic in 1979 at the request of the CRMS.
The school headmaster, Jeff Leahy, said during an interview on May 18 that the 1979 re-designation of the road was needed because vehicles were speeding through campus and causing an unsafe environment for students and faculty.
The county ripped up the asphalt surface of the road, the school for some time allowed the underlying strip of land to return to the pasture it once had been, back when it was the working Bar Fork Ranch before being handed over to CRMS founders John and Ann Holden in the early 1950s.
But in more recent times, Leahy said, “We’ve been doing a lot of things with the right-of-way, including building a new “driveway” leading to the western edge of the campus along the Crystal River; the placement of a small equipment shed for the school’s soccer teams; construction of a berm at the north end of the old roadway and realigning the entryway to the southern end of the campus; and permitting school yards to encroach on the right-of-way.
None of that seemed to bother the county, however, as the subject of encroachment was not a main theme at the March 18 meeting.
Instead, the theme was the commissioners’ continuing drive to find some way that the school and the public could use the right-of-way in a manner satisfactory to all, despite the school’s continuing expression of concern about school security.
That concern remains a key underlying aspect of the controversy, for Leahy, at least.
It is the school’s position that the road should not be open to public travel because of concerns about student safety and campus security, although some of the school’s critics have expressed doubt about whether that is a valid reason to limit public access to a rural road right-of-way that is more than a century old.
During a walk along the old right-of-way, Leahy recounted several incidents that have solidified that concern over the years, starting with a series of thefts several years ago from what once was the “New Boys Dorm” adjacent to County Road 108 as it approaches the bridge over the Crystal River near the school.
Leahy explained that the thefts occurred during several of the school’s bi-weekly “formal dinners” in the Bar Fork Cafeteria, times when the faculty and student body would gather for an evening meal.
“Anybody who knew our patterns knew that everybody, the entire school, would be in there every other Wednesday night,” and could break in without worrying much about getting caught.
Which someone did more than once, he said, carrying off computers, mainly, crimes that he said was duly reported to law enforcement but were not solved.
Other, more recent incidents included one a short time ago this year, when a motorcyclist drove along the path into the campus from the north, along the old right-of-way, and proceeded through the school grounds and onto the present remnant of CR106/108 that takes vehicles either to Carbondale or to the west up Thompson Creek or toward Aspen Glen and Glenwood Springs.
In addition, Leahy said, a golf cart of some sort recently drove up the trail from Dolores Way, stopping a short distance inside the campus boundary, which Leahy said was another case of motorized trespass on school grounds.
And in years past, he said, school officials often would find “a random car parked alongside this road (the right-of-way) at night,” occupied by non-CRMS teenagers doing the things teenagers do.
One basic fear of school officials, he continued, is that “within the right-of-way, if I am an estranged parent, I can stand on this right-of-way and impede my child’s movement across the right-of-way, going to another part of the campus.”
He quickly added, “That’s not something that’s happened to us. It’s an issue that we would say, ‘is that a possibility? Yes,’” and is a large part of why the school sought to have the road vacated as a public right-of-way in the past.
“None of us can predict something like Columbine,” Leahy went on, conceding that bringing up the 1999 mass shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado is an “easy, cheap issue” in arguing for greater security at CRMS.
But, he stressed, “We’re not that concerned about our neighbors, people that we know, whether they’re a family biking through or whomever.”
The goal, he said, is “to have control, if we felt like somebody would be inappropriate (come onto the campus), at least to be able to say to somebody, hey, we’d respectfully like you to leave.”
Asked when the concern about security got its start, he said, “I don’t know where the genesis of that is. I couldn’t tell you where that all began.”
But he said, “I think we’re all thinking the same way,” meaning the faculty, administration and students.
Regardless of such issues, however, the school and its neighbors have now been charged with coming up with a compromise solution that creates a dedicated, clearly marked trail, possibly paved, that will carry the public from one end of the campus to the other for the foreseeable future.
Published in The Sopris Sun on May 21, 2015.