EAGLE, Colorado - Piece by piece, a paved trail system - aka bike path - connecting the entire valley is becoming a reality.
Last week, in addition to naming its Trail Supporters of the Year, Eagle County's ECO Trails Committee spent time mapping out future objectives with county staff and commissioners.
"So far, we have 33 miles of the multiuse road/trail completed and 30 more to go," said Ellie Caryl, the ECO Trails program manager.
Part of the project includes widening highway shoulders, which were key assets when the USA Pro Cycling Challenge came to the area last summer.
Caryl said the keys to finishing the trail and shoulder-widening project will be to find additional funding, landowner cooperation and a continued partnership with the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Three stretches ECO Trails aims to make progress on in 2012 include Avon to Eagle-Vail, Gypsum to Dotsero and Edwards to Wolcott. The latter is pending on the outcome of a development under review by the county. A six-mile, shoulder-widening also is slated to take place in conjunction with an overlay project on U.S. Highway 6 between Wolcott and Eagle.
Caryl said determining the order of priority for projects is important because the funding is so limited. She works with road-biking subcommittees and other groups that help poll which projects are most beneficial.
"It takes time for these projects because it's hard to get funding," she said.
ECO Trails receives 10 percent of the county's transportation tax, which adds up to about $500,000 per year.
"We have been in a save-up-and-spend mode, as these projects cost millions," Caryl said.
Some funding strategies ECO Trails might employ in the future include getting projects ready for when grants come along - which also makes it easier to win a grant - collecting donations or possibly asking voters to approve a bond issue.
What has made the trail project especially challenging since it started 14 years ago is that the county does not own a complete corridor. That's where private landowner cooperation comes into play. There are also terrain challenges to work around. The railroad falls into both of the previous categories.
"We have been gluing pieces together because we don't have a corridor that we own," Caryl said.
An example of where the railroad has posed an obstacle is in the stretch from Dowd Junction to downtown Minturn. The railroad has yet to accept a lease proposal, which would be needed for the trail to cross the railroad's property.
"The railroad has sort of been directed by the federal government to not give up land," Caryl said.
The stretch from Avon to Eagle-Vail will be the first project out of the gate in 2012. The project will travel from Avon Road to the east end of the Eagle-Vail Commercial District, with a future extension to Dowd Junction.
"The first bids will be requested in January and it will be broken into three phases," Caryl said.
The Gypsum to Dotsero stretch is looking good in terms of land ownership. The county recently acquired three new open space parcels around Dotsero and CDOT and the Bureau of Land Management owns the rest.
"CDOT and the BLM are enthusiastic partners," Caryl said.
The Gypsum-Dotsero stretch will also be less expensive.
"A lot of the engineering and road-and-bridge work can be done by the county," Caryl said.
She added that a trail from Minturn to Red Cliff, which has a lot of public support, is still a goal but is "complicated and needs a lot more work."
Caryl stressed that ECO Trails encompasses the entire community.
"It's more than a county department - it's a coalition," she said. "We have board members from all the towns, which make up the ECO Board - of which the Trails Committee is a subcommittee."
ECO Trails is a partnership between Vail, Avon, Minturn, Red Cliff, Eagle, Gypsum, Eagle County and the citizen volunteer ECO Trails Committee.
Caryl said the way the organization is designed will help answer some important questions, chief among them: "What does the community want?"
Last week, the citizen ECO Trails Committee honored CDOT, Eagle Vail Board of Governors, Hardscrabble Trails Coalition, Vail Valley Chapter of the International Mountain Biking Association and the town of Gypsum as the 2011 Trail Supporter of the Year Award winners.
The awards are made annually for exceptional contributions to the regional trail system and local transportation system for the benefit of bicyclists and pedestrians.
The CDOT Region 3 maintenance staff will be honored for their efforts this year in Eagle County and statewide to support the USA Pro Cycling Challenge race that relied on use of the state highway system. Crews repaired and upgraded sections of Highway 6, 131 and the old Highway 6 portion of the Vail Pass bike path to accommodate the race event. Some work was scheduled as regular maintenance, but crews at CDOT worked hard to fit in the extra items required to stage the race, which benefited the state's economy and status as an international cycling venue.
Additionally, CDOT's Region 3 Traffic Division, Right of Way, Permitting and Engineering Divisions staff kept Highway 6 shoulders, shared-use roads and review of trail proposals a priority within their work load, moving several important projects along towards 2012 construction. CDOT staff has always been an essential partner in county and town efforts to improve the pedestrian and bicycling facilities in Eagle County.
The Eagle-Vail Board of Governors and their staff have been key partners in the Avon to Eagle-Vail Trail project that will provide a walking and bicycling route alongside Highway 6. The board granted easements across Metro District property to facilitate the project, including a crossing of the Eagle-Vail golf course. The board staff's technical assistance was also critical to the planning and construction process. The board voted to contribute to the cost of the project as well.
The town of Gypsum is being honored for its efforts to upgrade and improve the Eagle Valley Trail segments within the town, add spur trails that connect to the system and assist with trail maintenance beyond town boundaries in the interest of sharing responsibility for a consistently maintained trail system between jurisdictions. Gypsum has also been actively supportive of ECO Trails efforts to expand the system to communities to the east and west of Gypsum for the benefit of other jurisdictions and adjacent counties.
The Vail Valley Chapter of the International Mountain Biking Association and the Hardscrabble Trails Coalition were both founded in the past year by local residents. ECO Trails wanted to recognize these groups for organizing trail work days to improve or maintain public land trails. Their efforts help maintain the sustainability and user enjoyment of the trails, but also demonstrate to land management agencies that local citizens are invested in the preservation of the trail systems close to their communities.
These groups join the Trail Action Group, founded in 1996 by Dawes Wilson and Bob Kippola, as a past honoree for organizing volunteer work days on public lands trails. The Vail Valley Chapter of the International Mountain Biking Association, co-chaired by Jamie Malin and Peter Geyer, has hosted several work days in the mid and upper valley area, including a new trail connection between Singletree and Avon, and improvement on trails on Vail Mountain.
The Hardscrabble Trails Coalition, co-chaired by Adam Palmer and Scott Lingle, have hosted several work days to improve the East Eagle Trail System that was developed in the early 2000s through a BLM, town of Eagle and ECO Trails partnership.