Controversial Vail Trail plan postponed

A packed Town Council meeting is seen underway as proponents and opponents of improvements to the Vail Trail speak to the council. Council members decided to temporarily shelve plans for improving the trail and take at least a few months to re-examine the town’s 22-year-old open lands plan.
Townsend Bessent | |

What’s been done?

Since its 1994 adoption, the town of Vail has completed several projects envisioned by its open lands plan, including:

• Construction of the North Trail.

• Acquisition of land for the proposed Chamonix housing site.

• Made several trailhead improvements.

• Created a separated bike path between the Interstate 70 West Vail interchange and the town’s supermarkets.

VAIL — Supporters and opponents of proposed improvements to the Vail Trail came to Tuesday’s Town Council meeting ready to argue. The Vail Town Council instead took another route.

After roughly 18 months of work by town staff, council members decided on Tuesday to at least temporarily shelve plans for improving the trail, choosing instead to take at least a few months to re-examine the town’s 22-year-old open lands plan. That means all current planning for the Vail Trail will stop, including environmental and geological analysis.

The decision also paves the way to create a group of residents and town officials to review the existing plan and recommend changes.

The council’s decision came several weeks after a contentious public meeting in February. At that meeting, plan supporters and opponents engaged in some heated back-and-forth regarding the value of upgrading the trail, which now is a narrow path that more or less follows an old irrigation ditch from roughly Golden Peak to the Vail Golf Club.

Community concerns

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Opponents said the town had fast-tracked the proposal and claimed much of the proposed trail would be in geologic hazard areas and would put both residents and trail users in danger from falling rocks.

Town resident AnneMarie Mueller told the council that some of those rocks could fall into her and her neighbors’ back yards, where numerous grandchildren play.

“The first thing we need to do is study the mountain,” Mueller said.

Resident Tom Vucich, who had previously criticized the town for moving too quickly on the Vail Trail, encouraged another look at the 1994 plan.

That plan “suggests numerous trails and connections,” Vucich said. “No other alternatives were looked at before planning the Vail Trail.”

Supporters said the trail would be a boon to the valley’s burgeoning soft trail system. Trail advocates are working to create a network of non-paved trails from the top of Vail Pass all the way to Glenwood Canyon and Basalt. The Vail Trail would be an important segment of that broader network.

In advocating an update of the plan, Minturn resident Bill Hoblitzell also said Vail needs to update and upgrade its existing trails.

“Vail is vastly behind in its biking and trail infrastructure,” Hoblitzell said. “Take a look, see what works and what doesn’t.”

Jamie Malin, former president of the Vail Valley Mountain Biking Association, said new or upgraded soft-surface trails could also be an economic benefit to the town. The Vail Trail, Malin said, could be a “huge hit.”

While it soon became obvious that council members were willing to take another look at the open lands plan, a former council member urged caution.

“The council must take the Vail Trail off the table,” Diana Donovan said. “To plan anything with one proposal in mind is disastrous.”

Council member Dick Cleveland agreed.

“I’ve sat on a number of boards and have seen many proposals to write master plans,” Cleveland said. “Without exception, the larger plan was hijacked by a (smaller) plan being submitted.”

That’s when Cleveland proposed ending all current work on the Vail Trail.

“We need to step back from the Vail Trail,” council member Jen Mason said. “There are so many more trails and areas we haven’t explored.

In an earlier comment, Hoblitzell said postponing Vail Trail work to re-examine the 1994 plan is a “stalling tactic” to keep planned trail improvements from being built.

“Of course this is a way to throw water on (the Vail Trail),” council member Greg Moffet said. “That’s what we do. We’ve got a room full of people who don’t agree with each other. We’re going to initiate a process that will tick everyone off, and hopefully out of that we’ll find some consensus.”

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