Avon seeks funding for improvements to US Forest Service Road 779 in Wildridge
The grant, alongside additional funding, would bring much-needed maintenance to the heavily trafficked road
The town of Avon is seeking new funding sources to maintain one of the U.S. Forest Service roads in its jurisdiction. Last Tuesday, the Town Council gave its go ahead to pursue a grant for heavy maintenance of Forest Service Road No. 779 in Wildridge, also pledging financial support themselves for a reconditioning project on the road.
For around 10 years, the town has struggled to maintain the status quo of this heavily trafficked, but unmaintained, Forest Service road, also known as Metcalf Road or 779.
In 2011, the U.S. Forest Service slated Forest Service Road 779 for decommissioning in its Travel Management Plan. At that time, the town appealed this decision and reached an agreement with the Forest Service to maintain access on the road. This agreement included the town taking responsibility of its maintenance.
However, no such maintenance has occurred, and the road has grown close to impassable.
“I have been hiking that road for 27, 28 years, and it is such terrible disrepair, you can’t even walk down it,” said Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes at the Nov. 16, Town Council meeting. “It is a historic road; it accesses other parts of the backcountry. I support shared use but not abuse of our backcountry.”
The Forest Service classifies its roads into five levels. Maintenance level 1 roads are closed to motor vehicle use. Maintenance level 2 roads are meant for high-clearance vehicles. Maintenance level 3, 4 and 5 roads are maintained for passage by standard passenger cars during the normal season of use.
Metcalf Road No. 779 is currently classified as a level 2 road, but in order to keep it open, the road requires some work.
“There hasn’t been maintenance on this road for at least 20 years, I’m guessing even longer,” said Matt Pielsticker, the town’s planning director.
Town Council has previously discussed this road and the required maintenance, including improvements to the road base as well as other resource and parking issues. In June, the town and U.S. Forest Service discussed reaching a new agreement to ensure the road is taken care of in the years to come. This new memorandum of understanding is still being drafted.
However, in an effort to fund currently required repairs and maintenance, the town has decided to apply for a Colorado Parks and Wildlife grant to restore the road to this level 2 designation. This statewide grant is funded through the sale of off-highway vehicle registrations and use permits and is available for projects related to off-highway vehicle use on lands open to the public.
In putting together the application, the town collaborated with the Forest Service and the local Division of Wildlife and local trail groups including Wildridge Trail Coalition. It hopes that this collaboration will demonstrate community support for maintaining 779, and increase its likelihood of receiving the grant funds. The Wildridge Trail Coalition specifically is named as a partner in the project description.
The scope of the proposed project includes building water bars to prevent flooding, installing new road base and removing large rocks to even the surface of the road for vehicles, decommission user-created roadways and narrow the track back to a one-way road in places where it has been pushed out by traffic, and reseed the disturbed areas around the roadway. This work, should all the funding be secured, is expected to be completed in 2023.
“We need to keep this road as a level two,” said council member Scott Prince. “We told the Forest Service that we would maintain this road, because the whole goal here is keep the Forest Service from permanently closing that road. And this is just one of the steps that we’re doing to keep the Forest Service from closing the road. We’re not encouraging more access, it’s just about maintaining what we have, not make it any more easy to use, just make it more sustainable.”
In the grant application, it shows that the town received a project bid from RPM Construction, a contractor that previously has done work with the U.S. Forest Service, for this scope of work. The contractor estimated a project cost of $66,962.
The project will rely on more than just the grant to serve the road. While the grant would fund the largest chunk (just over $31,000), Pielsticker said that the town has other funding pending, including support from Berry Creek Metro and Singletree of $500 from each community and pending monetary support from Eagle County ($10,000). The Avon Town Council also agreed to contribute $15,000 to this project on Tuesday as part of its approval of the grant application and budget.
Community support, concern
Several Wildridge residents attended last Tuesday’s meeting and showed support not only for the town seeking this grant, but also for an ordinance that allows residents to travel via off-highway vehicles between their Wildridge residences and Forest Service Roads 779 and 717.1B. This ordinance, which was passed by council in May, was deemed a success at the meeting.
There were also several residents that spoke out against the grant, largely referencing an ongoing debate over whether or not these motorized vehicles should be allowed on these local Forest Service roads at all.
“I think the application needs to do a better job addressing some of the issues that those who wrote the application and those who are in favor of it have pretty much ignored,” said resident Jack Gardner.
Several residents also spoke to the great need for this project, many expressing appreciation for the access it provides.
“The town has been behind keeping the trail open for a long time,” said Wildridge resident Dave Dantas. “You guys have made a commitment to it, and it’s been a very good thing. Because once those trails close, they’re gone.”
Other supporters noted the added safety these improvements would bring to the road.
“It’s pretty well established that the town and the community is very much supportive of keeping 779 open. This grant will help with safety on that trail,” said resident Charley Viola. “We recognize, everyone has accepted, that the trail is going to stay open, so now we need to keep it safe as well. With the torrential rains we had this summer, that trail has deteriorated quite a bit. It’s in pretty bad shape, and I think that the money that is going to be spent on it is money well spent.”
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.