MINTURN, Colorado - It's been 15 years since trains regularly rumbled over Tennessee Pass between Dotsero and Canon City. After all that time, there could be a chance to use some of that rail line for a trail.
Town of Minturn and Eagle County officials are working with the Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the line, on a deal that might - and "might" is the key word here - allow the use of some of that property for a trail.
Town officials earlier this year met with Union Pacific officials at corporate headquarters in Omaha, Neb. The point was to talk to railroad officials about the possibility of leasing some railroad property between Dowd Junction and The Turntable restaurant for a trail, parking, and, perhaps, access to the Eagle River for kayakers.
That sounds fairly ambitious, but it's a far cry from the much bigger plans floated in the late 1990s.
After the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific merged, and took the Tennessee Pass line out of action, state and railroad officials talked about selling the 178-mile corridor - for the bargain price of about $900,000 - and creating a trail.
That's when the feds stepped in and stopped the sale, asserting that the rail line had to be preserved in case transcontinental lines in New Mexico and Wyoming weren't able to handle the additional traffic.
That move essentially killed the idea of a Front Range to Western Slope Trail. Over the years, a number of ideas have been floated, only to ultimately be rejected by railroad officials.
These days, Ellie Caryl, who runs Eagle County's ECO Trails, said state and local officials are eyeing three sections of line to complete a trail the length of the Eagle River Valley. One segment is between Red Cliff and Minturn. Another is between Wolcott and Eagle, and the third is between Dowd Junction and Minturn.
Caryl said longer trail sections will be the most difficult, primarily because of corporate rules, which require any trails on railroad right of way to be at least 50 feet from any tracks. That would be anywhere between tough and impossible in the tight sections of Red Canyon and the Eagle River downstream from Red Cliff.
There's also little chance, if any, of putting a trail over the top of the rail bed. Since the line is "inactive," not "abandoned," the railroad can decide at any time to start running trains again. Caryl said it could take somewhere between several months and a year or more to get the line in shape to handle traffic.
If that happened, and if Minturn and the Union Pacific came to an agreement, the town would have to put up a fence between the public areas and tracks.
Minturn Town Council member George Brodin said that's possible. Brodin added that meeting the 50-foot distance requirement would be "easy" along the entire Dowd-to-Minturn stretch.
"We're unique in that respect," Brodin said.
But nothing has been approved yet. Brodin and Caryl are both well aware of that.
"It's all still pie in the sky at this point," Brodin said. "But we've volleyed the ball back over the net - maybe we'll get this one back."
If a deal does get done on the Dowd to Minturn section, both Brodin and Caryl think it might open the doors for deals in the future.
For Caryl, that means finding a way to finish a trail the length of the valley by 2020. Brodin is thinking closer to home.
"We've had some good conversations about our railroad crossings," he said.
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.