Eagle, county officials discuss river park plan
February 9, 2017
EAGLE — Informal meetings between the Eagle County Commissioners and various town government representatives are relatively commonplace — after all, the county and the towns within it have a number of mutual interests.
That is especially true in Eagle these days.
This week, the commissioners sat down with members of the Eagle Town Board for a broad discussion of several topics. Topping the list for the meeting was the high-profile public project partnership between the two governments — the Eagle River Park.
"What's been great is the support we have gotten from the county. It has been much appreciated," said Eagle Town Manager John Schneiger.
The river park plan envisions a new amenity both in and along the Eagle River at the current truck parking site just east of the Eagle County Fairgrounds. The county owns the land, but the park is a town project. The firm hired by the town to design the in-stream features to attract boaters, kayakers and tubers is nearing completion of its work. Last month, Eagle hired a design team featuring Alpine Engineering in Edwards and Zehren and Associates of Avon to complete the park plan, which will include both passive and active recreation features, trails and a river beach area.
The park development will be financed with a .5 percent sales tax approved by Eagle voters in April of 2016. Schneiger told the commissioners that tax will generate between $5.3 million to $5.4 million over its life, and the town plans to apply for Great Outdoors Colorado (Colorado Lottery) funding for the project. Additionally, a citizen's fundraising effort has been launched to generate additional money for the project.
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When the river park concept was being developed, the commissioners agreed to allow the town to proceed with planning the project on county land. A second intergovernmental agreement must be developed before actual construction can begin.
The county did not require the town to annex the park land prior to planning the project. One of the reasons was timing — annexation is a time-consuming process and Eagle wanted to launch its planning effort. But regardless of whether or not the park land is located in the town, as the property owner the county will be intimately involved with design and development of the park.
Wednesday night county officials said that the long-term plan includes annexing the land into the town.
While the county is not a financial partner in the Eagle River Park, the commissioners voiced their strong support for the plan. They noted with the town looking to revitalize the east entrance to the property, the county is re-examining the fairgrounds land as a whole.
"We have pulled out all of our old fairgrounds plans and put them on the table," said Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry. "It's just a question of money."
Throughout time, several master plans have been developed for the property. All of them carry substantial price tags. Proposed improvements at the fairgrounds site include everything from upgrades designed to bring equestrian events to the Eagle River Center to relocation of the rodeo arena.
Eagle officials are particularly interested in a long-term proposal to build a second access at the western end of the property. The town believes a second access would make it much easier to get to the property and eliminate the bottlenecked traffic that happens during large events. The cost of that road is estimated to be in the several million dollar range because it includes a bridge over the Eagle River.
As they proceed with the Eagle River Plan, town officials noted the impact area for the proposal extends through the old exhibit hall space at the county fairgrounds. By including that area in the planning, the town hopes to provide an attractive and functional entry to the fairgrounds property. And there may be space for some art at the locale.
A few month ago, some neighbors of Mayor Anne McKibbin returned from a trip to Montana with photos of a huge eagle sculpture. They suggested Eagle should look at purchasing a similar piece of signature art.
Custom Iron Eagles, of Libby, Montana, produces large-scale artwork — in particular a piece that depicts an eagle in flight and has a 40-foot wingspan.
"It is very cool and it is huge," McKibbin said.
She noted the Eagle River Park plan includes provision for "an iconic structure."
"This is pretty iconic. It would be easily visible from (Interstate 70)," McKibbin said.
McKibbin floated the sculpture suggestion during this week's meeting, noting its $73,000 price tag likely makes it a candidate for a donation drive.