From Vail Pass to Glenwood Canyon
EAGLE COUNTY – The old adage “taking it one step at a time,” is a relevant one for Eagle County Regional Trails System Program Manger Ellie Caryl and her ECO Trails partners.They are piecing together a recreation and transportation path, which will one day be a 45-mile-long corridor for cyclists, walkers and joggers running from the top of Vail Pass all the way to Glenwood Springs. The path will also include a spur trail from Dowd Junction through Minturn and on to Red Cliff.When finished, it will be the culmination of work done by county commissioners, town planners and governments, members of the Eagle Valley Trails committee, Caryl and her many volunteer partners and Eagle County citizens and taxpayers.The cooperative effort is what makes this project so special, Caryl said. “The towns and county and state and citizens have really worked hard on this together,” said Caryl, a Massachusetts native who now lives in No Name in Glenwood Canyon. “It is not the result of any one person’s work – it truly is a collective and effective effort, and a good model of a cooperative effort.”The final piece of this winding puzzle is not even slated for construction until 2021, a good indicator of the political, financial and logistical problems a project of this scope has to overcome. History of ECO TrailsIn 1995, Eagle County voters passed a half-percent, mass transportation sales tax that launched ECO Trails. ECO Trails receives 10 percent of the money generated from that tax. The remainder goes to ECO Transit to fund the county’s bus system.
County Commissioner Mike Gallagher, who is the founding chairman of ECO Trails, said when the measure to pass the transportation tax was sent to the voters in 1994 without the trails portion, it was rejected. The next year when the 10 percent for trails was added to the ballot language, things were different.”When the voters had the chance to approve just ECO transit they said no,” said Gallagher. “When we threw in 10 percent for the trails, the measure passed.”Figuring out how to spend the money gave rise to the Eagle Valley Trails Committee.”They formed the trails committee in 1996, as the tax was first being collected,” said Caryl. “The take the first year was $250,000. The committee has 18 members, and they recommend how that money should be spent. The first year’s money went to the section of trail that links West Vail to Highway 6 passing under I-70.”In 2001, ECO Trails printed the Eagle Valley Regional Trails Plan for the towns of Gypsum, Eagle, Vail, Beaver Creek, Minturn, Red Cliff and Avon as well as unincorporated Eagle County. The plan outlined costs, provided maps, laid out a timeline, set priority and proposed routes for a “Core Trail” linking Vail Pass to Glenwood Springs.New stretchThe most recent addition to the countywide trail opened July 15, in Dowd Junction. It runs from the bridge that crosses the Eagle River into Eagle-Vail.
This part of the path was one of the most difficult and expensive parts to build, requiring 13 retaining walls, replacement of old irrigation pipes and the installation of safety railings. Preserving the health of nearby riverbanks also was a big part of the project, Caryl said.”Along with the section that will go through the Gilman area, this was the most expensive stretch,” Caryl said. “The lay of the land was a challenge here, which always affects cost.”Remarkably, funding, while always a concern, is not one of Caryl’s main obstacles to adding new sections to the trail.”The reason we have gotten as far as we have is we make our money go a long way,” said Caryl. “We get grants, local governments match funds for sections in their towns, we get private in-kind donations, and money from developers.”ECO Transit will sometimes give extra money to the trails program beyond the 10 percent they already receive, Caryl said. “It was extra money from them that made it possible to finish the Dowd Junction to Eagle-Vail stretch,” said Caryl, noting the $460,000 ECO Trails received as this year’s tax revenue was spent almost entirely on the Dowd Junction Trail.The path is not just for recreation – as part of a mass transportation tax, it is also designed to be used for commuter travel, she said.”We try to stress the transportation side of it,” said Caryl. “I spent a lot of time at Dowd Junction this summer and the number of people that ride by coming to and from work is amazing.”ECO Board member Debbie Buckley agrees, saying as gas prices go up, more and more people will look for alternative transportation, making the path “essential.”
All volunteer, all the timeBesides Caryl’s position, ECO Trails is comprised solely of volunteers. In fact, the trail would could not be built without the volunteers, Caryl said.The volunteer work, research and input from the Trails Committee is vital to the ongoing success of this project, Buckley added.”The trails committee is a wonderful committee,” said Buckley. “They are just awesome. Between Ellie and them, they have a plan for the whole build-out of this trail.”ECO Trails volunteers also participate in several local events, includ the Ultra 100, celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the Cougar Ridge Trail Action Group work day, the Sonnenalp Casual Classic (which helped raise money for ECO Trails) and the Eagle River Clean-up.”It shows how much people care about this communit and the active outdoor lifestyle we all enjoy,” said Caryl, who is a biker and runner. “We never have a lack of support.”Other volunteer branches of ECO Trails include the backcountry sub-committee, who deal with off-road trails. Leslie Kehemeier and Jon Bailey spearhead that committee and this year have helped design, build and retrofit the East Eagle trails and get the Hardscrabble trail planning effort off the ground with the Bureau of Land Management.A new volunteer opportunity is the Adopt-a-Trail program, in which local business, civic groups and organizations can take responsibility for a section of trail to make sure it remains trash and weed free.The next work scheduled is finishing the path from Dowd Junction to Avon and connecting Eagle and Gypsum. Both of those projects are currently in the planning phase.
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