By John Colson
Sopris Sun staff writer
Neighbors of Colorado Rocky Mountain School outside Carbondale this week told the Garfield County Commissioners that they were concerned that the school has not lived up to its side of a bargain about public use of a county road that cuts through the campus.
But the commissioners, who conceded there may be something to the neighbors’ worries, declined to make any changes to a deal worked out more than a year ago that permits bicyclers and pedestrians to use County Road 106, and called for more information about how to defuse what has become an annual clash between the school and members of the general public.
The road, locally known as 106 Road, is a historic county right-of-way that was in use decades before the school was founded and that provides what neighbors say is an important short-cut for those trying to get from West Main Street (also CR106) to the area along Dolores Way that leads to the unincorporated neighborhood known as Satank, or vice-versa.
CRMS is a private high school, founded in 1953 and located just west of Carbondale, where 176 students are taught by 39 teachers in a setting where outdoor education as well as academic classes are essential parts of the curriculum.
The school has at least once tried to convince Garfield County to vacate the road and pass control of the right of way to CRMS, based mainly on arguments centered around the school’s concerns about security.
The Board of County Commissioners, however, has repeatedly confirmed that it wants to retain the historic right-of-way as a public thoroughfare, though in 1979 it was limited to non-vehicular public traffic, meaning the only vehicles allowed would be those directly related to the school.
The vote in 2015 to hang onto the old road came down to a 2-1 split, with Commissioner Tom Jankovsky (who represents a district that includes Carbondale, CRMS and Satank) voting along with the school in saying that public use of the road should be discontinued.
In that decision, in October of 2015, the board majority ruled in favor of greater formalization of the public trail.
Following that decision, the “trail” was to comprise an eight-foot bike and hike lane, marked out by painted lines on one side of the existing pavement for about 300 feet along the southern portion of its route through the school.
At that point, the path is to switch to the other side of the road and change to a soft-paved trail, separate from the roadway, following the rest of the historic right of way alongside the school’s soccer field to a point where it connects with Dolores Way at the northern edge of the campus.
At Monday’s BOCC meeting, trail proponent John Armstrong, a resident of Satank and a Pitkin County Open Space & Trails ranger by day, noted that the meeting marks “the beginning of the fourth year” of conflict over use of the road, and reported that in some respects the school had not lived up to its end of the 2015 agreement.
Among other things, Armstrong said that delineation of the trail beside the road is inadequate, maintaining that the limestone surface has weathered to the point where it looks just like the adjoining asphalt road.
He also argued that when the school earlier this year did some major work on the road — which the school considers a “driveway” for use by students and staff — it failed to do any work to clearly identify the trail, such as creating a “green belt” of separation between the trail and the soccer field, as well as figuring out how to clearly distinguish the trail from the road.
“I was quite discouraged when I saw that that didn’t happen,” Armstrong told the commissioners at their Monday regular meeting, though he also remarked that the school is “a great institution” and offered to assist the school’s administration in coming up with a compromise solution to the conflict.
“I’m here to help,” Armstrong declared at one point.
Armstrong and another neighbor, Barbara Dills (who is a member of the Sopris Sun’s board of directors), both indicated concern that the school might be working toward elimination of public use of CR106 as it bisects the school.
Dills, in a statement to the commissioners, maintained that the trail has repeatedly been blocked by parked cars and other obstructions, forcing public users to essentially trespass onto the school’s own right of way.
Plus, she said, during this year’s road work, the trail was “terribly obstructed” by the paving project, as well as “dangerous” to users.
She also accused the school’s finance officer, Joe White, of “harassment,” stating that he once followed her for the length of the trail through campus while she was out for a walk.
“We shouldn’t have to be fighting for our right to use the right-of-way,” she concluded.
The neighbors also are not satisfied with the trail’s intersection with West Main Street and CR108 at the south end of the campus, Armstrong told the commissioners, claiming that it “dumps” users at the “apex of the curve” of CR108 where the road intersects with West Main Street, and is a dangerous situation for bicyclists hoping to turn toward Carbondale.
“I guess I’m sensing some sour grapes from John and Barbara,” said CRMS attorney Chad Lee, who maintained that the county had “promised” in 1979 to relocate CR106 away from the middle of the campus, although that view has never been publicly expressed by the commissioners.
By the end of the hour-long exchange, the commissioner seemed to be growing frustrated.
“I just think, we’ve spent so much time on this, it’s adequate the way it is,” declared Jankovsky.
But Commission Chair John Martin directed Mike Prehm of the county road and bridge department to do some research into ways the trail can be more clearly marked out as separate from the road, and other potential compromise solutions to the ongoing dispute.
“Since we have said it’s a public right of way, we ought to make it a safe right of way,” Martin said.