By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff
While the question of the moment for The Crystal River Trail has been where exactly it should go, a sizable contingent at a public meeting on Oct. 17 urged Pitkin County to consider not building it at all.
It’s far from a new perspective in the decades long debate. According to Open Space Director Gary Tennenbaum, the trail was first considered in 1994, with a feasibility study in 2004 and the first five miles completed in 2011. Governor Hickenlooper recently lent urgency to the project by highlighting it among the “Colorado 16” regional trail gaps in the state.
Several studies, however, have raised concerns about potential environmental impacts, while the least disruptive alignment — directly alongside Highway 133 — is also likely to be the most expensive to build and least pleasant to use.
Originally scheduled to present the results of the first round of public feedback, the format for the joint meeting between the Carbondale Trustees and Pitkin County Commissioners and the Open Space and Trails Board was altered when the deadline for comments was moved back to Nov. 15. A shift of venue to the Third Street Center proved well advised, with over 100 people turning out, about half of whom signed up to speak.
Tennenbaum viewed that as a good sign.
“I see passion for the trail. I see passion for open space. I see passion for connecting communities,” he said.
Ute leader Kenny Frost set the tone with an introduction and prayer.
“We have come here to address our concerns always with reflection on what’s good for Mother Earth,” he said.
After that, the Carbondale Trustees had their say. Marty Silverstein was among the first to raise the idea of a third, trailless option.
“We’re operating on the premise that we need this trail, and I don’t know that I necessarily agree with that premise,” he said. “If you mitigate the effect, that means that there obviously is an effect.”
Andy Wiessner, speaking independently from his role on the board of Wilderness Workshop, agreed.
“If it’s too expensive to build a trail that doesn’t encroach on wildlife, I would say don’t build a trail,” he said.
In general, although the discussion was far from one sided, an informal show of hands at a indicated that the majority of those assembled had concerns about the process.
After surveying the crowd, Lisa Tasker expressed her own sense of disenfranchisement by the tone and top-down approach.
“If you live in the Crystal Valley, you may be dismissed as a NIMBY. If you don’t… you may dismissed for that,” she said.
And, added Jay Engstrom, a whole class of relevant residents weren’t able to be part of the conversation at all.
“I do really want to see a bike path up there, but at the same time I think the entire community has to be taken into account, and the majority can’t be sitting here to talk to us because they’re animals,” he said.
Indeed, wildlife impacts seemed to be at the core of most objections. Several attendees spoke to the inefficacy of seasonal closures in preventing people from causing a disruption during certain times of the year. Some expressed concerns about what would happen to the river itself with pavement on both sides.
Others questioned how much impact a bike path might actually have in a valley already hosting homes and a highway.
“Development in the Valley has been more to detrimental to wildlife in terms of habitat loss than the trail would be,” said Doris Downey. “I think that one can be protective of wildlife and still desire to have a trail that is off the highway.”
Indeed, a few spoke to the potential environmental and health advantages of getting people out of cars and onto bikes.
“I’d love to be able to ride a bike from my house to work,” said Jeff Bier, who used to bike on the road with impunity but now drives that mile every day. “It’s just too scary.”
In contrast to those concerned about the process, Mike Pritchard thanked the assembled boards for the work they’d done.
“I’m very grateful that we’re now at this level of detail that we can be considering exact alignments,” he said.
Stacey Bernot echoed the sentiments, but also joined with Bill Fales in expressing concerns about potential conflicts with private property.
“I think the average citizen is unaware of the potential looming battles that may lie ahead depending on where it goes,” she said. “Please keep at it and do this mindfully so we can all be proud of this legacy.”
While a few more public comments took place after the Carbondale Trustees left the meeting at 8:15, the crowd began to leak away. The issue will be discussed again at the next trustee meeting on Oct. 24. Meanwhile, information is available and comments are being taken at pitkinostprojects.com through Nov. 15.