By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff
Carbondale and Garfield County have for years talked about exploring ways to put a trail alongside Snowmass Drive, the one-time bypass for coal trucks hauling loads from mines near Redstone to the coal loading facility on Catherine Store Road east of town.
Following a joint meeting between town trustees and the county’s Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) in June, the two entities may be moving closer to actually getting a project underway.
Before anything concrete happens, it will be up to Carbondale to come up with estimated costs of such a project, as well as an idea of whether the town should annex the road and perhaps the adjacent Vetter Trailer Park (aka The Garfield Court Mobile Home Park), both of which currently are in the county’s jurisdiction.
Snowmass Drive, which is the main focus of the talks between the town and the county, was built in the mid-1970s, according to Carbondale resident Rebecca Young, co-founder of The Valley Journal newspaper that operated in Carbondale until 2009.
She said that when she moved to Carbondale in 1974, “They were still bringing the coal trucks through town” on the way to the loading facility on 100 Road.
Soon after that, she recalled, the coal mining company, Mid-Continent Coal & Coke (later renamed to Mid-Continent Resources) built Snowmass Drive as a bypass to get the coal trucks off the town’s streets and avoid conflicts with the cars, bikes and pedestrians using those streets.
For some time, there was little development along what became known as “the coal road,” other than the former Roaring Fork High School building and a home across Snowmass Drive from the intersection at Sopris Avenue. Although some Crystal River Valley residents used the bypass as a quick route around Carbondale on the way to jobs in Aspen, for some time the road saw little traffic other than the coal trucks.
Since then, however, the community has seen the construction of the Crystal River Elementary School and The Orchard, a nondenominational church next to the elementary school, with a resulting increase in automotive traffic on Snowmass Drive.
At the same time, Carbondale and other entities have created a bike-and-pedestrian trail system that includes a leg that runs from the intersection of Sopris Avenue and Snowmass Drive (at the southeastern corner of the Vetter Trailer Park) south along Snowmass Drive to a point near Highway 133, where the trail joins with another trail that follows the highway on southward.
It is the town’s hope to link that portion of its trail system by building a connection along the 900 feet of Snowmass Drive that remains technically within the county, confirmed Town Manager Jay Harrington in a telephone interview on July 18.
Referring to the joint meeting on June 20 with the BOCC, Harrington said, “We talked about trying to figure out some way to get bikes and pedestrians (off) the road,” Harrington said, but he added that while there have been “a lot of discussions” over the years, there has been “nothing definite” in the way of formal planning.
The whole idea, he said, is on hold while the town comes up with cost estimates for the trail work and whatever else such a project might entail, which will be turned over to county officials to see how it fits into the county’s budget for 2018 or beyond.
Harrington said town officials are envisioning a trail of six to eight feet in width, separated from the traffic lanes of the road, but noted that the Carbondale Board of Trustees has yet to decide whether the town should annex the road and take on the maintenance and repair costs it would bring.
While the county has shown a willingness to take part in paying for the improvements, said County Manager Kevin Batchelder, it is now waiting for the town’s information before going any further.
He noted, though, that the county “would like to see the town annex the road.”
The trailer park
The Vetter Trailer Park, which was created by former coal miner Carl Vetter in the 1950s and later purchased by Bob and Molly Olenick (former owners of the Red Rock Diner), has been owned since 2012 by local entrepreneur Simon Casas, whom Bob Olenick said already owned several trailers in the park.
According to records on file with the Garfield County Assessor’s Office, Casas purchased the park for approximately $1.4 million, a sum that Bob Olenick said he had financed and that Casas “almost has completely paid off.”
Casas, several years ago, was hoping to add another mobile home to the park, and attempted to buy an additional water tap for that purpose. But the town declined to go along due to a moratorium on selling water taps to properties outside the town boundaries.
When reached by phone on July 18, Casas said he had not heard that the county and the town were discussing the possible annexation of the road and his trailer park.
Asked how he felt about the possibility of annexing the park to the town, he said, “It has, I think, good and bad things” about it.
Two possible outcomes that he considers bad from his viewpoint, he said, are the likelihood that his property taxes would be higher if the park were in the town’s jurisdiction, and the potential that he would need to undertake considerable improvements to bring the trailer park up to the town’s codes.
“I have no idea what the town codes may require,” he said, adding that he would need to talk with town officials before he could say much more about the situation.
Batchelder, after acknowledging that annexation of the road by the town would leave the trailer park as an isolated “county enclave” entirely surrounded by the town, said the county would like to see the trailer park annexed if that is feasible.
Any costs of improvements to the park, in order to meet town code requirements, “would be up to the owner,” Batchelder predicted.
Neither Batchelder nor Harrington could say how long deliberations might take before actual work on road improvements might begin, though the hope is that it could start next year, depending on costs.