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RFTA rolls out plan for the Rio Grande ArtWay

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Funding still an issue

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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Plans moved forward last week for the Rio Grande ArtWay through Carbondale, although it is not likely that actual work on the gardens, supplemental trails, sculpture installations and other aspects of the ArtWay will begin until summer at the earliest, and perhaps not until next year.

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Amy Kimberly, executive director of the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities and a main driver behind plans to make Carbondale a designated “Creative District,” said roughly 35 people took part in a meeting on April 14 between CCAH and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA), which controls the Rio Grande Trail as it winds through town.

“It went great,” Kimberly recalled. “It was a pretty diverse swath of the community, and everybody was pretty positive.”

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The plan behind the ArtWay effort is to beautify the trail as it runs through Carbondale, with a variety of locally-sponsored, volunteer-initiated projects.

“It is a collaborative project with the (proposed) Carbondale Creative District and RFTA,” Kimberly explained.

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Kimberly has also been working on CCAH’s application with the state to become certified as a Creative District, which is due on April 28.

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Part of Creative District

The ArtWay is part of a broader planning effort headed up by Kimberly, the Carbondale Creative District Committee, which has Kimberly teaming up with officials of the Town of Carbondale, Colorado Creative Industries (a division of the Colorado office of Economic Development and International Trade created by Gov. John Hickenlooper) and a team of consultants.

After CCAH won a Governor’s Arts Award in 2012, through Colorado Creative Industries, Kimberly and a platoon of volunteers began work on making Carbondale one of the state’s newly designated Creative Districts, putting it in line for state assistance and recognition as a town that relies heavily on artists and other creative types for its economic vitality.

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The proposed Carbondale Creative District got the support of the Town of Carbondale at about the same time, in the form of a $3,500 donation authorized by the Board of Trustees for the 2013 budget, and won additional state backing in 2014 with a $5,000 grant and a promise of “in-kind” assistance to get the Creative District effort going.

An additional grant of $3,500 from the town a year later, along with $2,500 from a private donor, have helped the planning to the point where last year the district was accepted formally into the state’s Creative District program, and won a $10,000 grant from the state and a pledge for $5,000 more from the town in 2016.

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Along the way, in 2014 according to the Rio Grande ArtWay master plan, organizers came up with the augmentation of the trail as a project under Creative District auspices, in consultation with RFTA’s Rio Grand Trail coordinator Brett Meredith. The “preliminary master plan” for the ArtWay was drawn up this year by Acre Narrative Design of Carbondale, paid for by RFTA.

The Creative District itself encompasses the part of town south of the Rio Grande Trail, including the historic buildings and businesses along Main Street, up Fourth Street past The Launch Pad where CCAH has its offices and R2 Gallery, and on to the Third Street Center, home to a number of artist studios, nonprofits and other organizations.

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The Creative District effort will be heralded next month, when the Creative Industries Summit takes place in Carbondale from May 4-6, including a kick-off event in the Dolores Way neighborhood.

The Rio Grande ArtWay project is meant to be part of the overall Creative District concept.

The ArtWay plan

A preliminary master plan for the Rio Grande ArtWay, complete with proposed changes to the trail and the adjacent RFTA-owned grounds, can be found at the RFTA website ( by clicking on the “Railroad Corridor” button at the top of the home page and scrolling down to Trail Documentation.

The master plan is under Public Comment on the left-and side of the Documentation page.

Among the ArtWay design ideas known so far is the proposed Latino Folk-Art garden on RFTA-owned ground where the trail intersects 8th Street.

The design and makeup of the Folk-Art Garden, Kimberly said, will be up to the Latino community, working through the Valley Settlement Project, an adjunct of the Manaus Fund with an office in the Third Street Center.

Kimberly said the planning for the Folk-Art Garden has scarcely begun, just as planning for much of the greater ArtWay is in its early stages.

But, she said with a tone of excitement, “We’ll see what they come up with.”

She said plans also call for erection of a “gateway arch” at the juncture of the trail with Highway 133, built out of bicycle parts, to act as an entrance to a stretch of trail-side park land leading eastward to the Folk-Art Garden at 8th Street.

“We’re calling it a ‘linear park,’” Kimberly said of the strip of park development.

In addition to the Folk-Art Garden, Kimberly said, the Carbondale Public Arts Commission is expected to help with the placement of sculptures along the trail at certain points, in keeping with the town’s long-standing public-art programs.

And as part of the planning for the beautification of the trail, there is to be a “soft-surface” trail next to the pavement for hikers and runners, as well as a “single-track” for bicyclists along one stretch of the trail.

RFTA’s participation

For RFTA’s part, according to Meredith, the transit agency paid the $3,000 or so for the master plan, which Meredith said will probably be finalized some time this summer.

The soft-surface portion of the trail augmentation project, he said, is meant to reduce conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians, and will likely be a surface of “crusher fines” or small gravel on the southern edge of the existing trail pavement, to accommodate everything from foot traffic to baby strollers.

The single-track, Meredith said, is projected to be only along the stretch of trail between 8th Street and Highway 133, and is likely to be a dirt track on the north side of the paved trail where the right of way is wider than it is along other parts.

Beyond his staff time and the money spent on the master planning effort, Meredith said, “I don’t have a whole lot of budget to focus on this.”

He noted that it was more a matter of serendipity than actual intention that brought about RFTA’s participation in the ArtWay project, saying, “Carbondale has all the art stuff going on (and) the Rio Grande Trail bisects the town, so I think it’s pretty unique. This was kind of the right-place, right-time kind of thing.”

But, he added, RFTA is open to consideration of similar trail augmentation ideas in the other towns of the valley, including Glenwood Springs and Basalt, although he was careful to add that RFTA is committed to maintaining “the rural character of the trail outside the town limits.”

Published in The Sopris Sun on April 21, 2016.