Groups seek to link Vail Valley’s soft trails | VailDaily.com

Groups seek to link Vail Valley’s soft trails

EAGLE COUNTY — Backcountry adventure today requires skis, snowboards, snowshoes or snowmobiles. But when the snow melts and the weather warms, getting into the backcountry can require only a good pair of shoes — if you know where to go.

Momentum is building to improve the Vail Valley's network of soft-surface trails. The goal is to eventually — and perhaps sooner than later — create a well-identified network of trails between the top of Vail Pass and Dotsero and Basalt.

Many of the trails already exist. Most are located on the national forests that surround the Vail Valley's populated areas. And, yes, many of those trails can challenge even experienced hikers or cyclists.

But part of the goal is to create trails on, or near, the valley floor, where just about anyone can get in a hike on a mostly flat piece of trail that isn't a paved recreation path.

The town of Vail is looking to improve a 4.8-mile trail based on the existing Vail Trail. The current plan would lay down a roughly 4-foot trail bed. But Gregg Barrie, a landscape architect for the town of Vail, said most of that trail bed would be covered by vegetation not long after it's built.

"I'd expect most of the trail to be single-track," Barrie said, adding that the trail bed would primarily help control erosion and allow people to safely pass one another.

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Soft trails, hard work

But the Vail Trail project — with an estimated price tag of $250,000 — is more complicated than it sounds. A stretch leading from roughly the Vail golf course clubhouse to the base of Golden Peak actually crosses the national forest in several places. That's going to require approval from the U.S. Forest Service.

That means work on the project will start — probably this year — on the eastern stretch, almost entirely on town-owned property. That stretch runs from roughly the clubhouse to a spot near the Vail Memorial Park in East Vail. Given the extra work required for the western portion, construction on that leg will probably begin in 2017.

While momentum is building for more soft trails, the idea has long been popular.

Barrie said that Vail in about 1994 approved an open lands plan that put a soft trail network as the second item on the plan's to-do list, behind only open space acquisition.

"This isn't an idea that's recent," Barrie said.

While work on a trail network continues in Vail, the Vail Valley Trail Connection is working on an even broader plan. Working with local governments and other nonprofit groups, including the Vail Valley Mountain Bike Association, the trails group's primary project for 2016 is to create a master plan that links all the soft trails in the valley and to map out those trails for users.

Avon resident Rich Carroll is a member of the trail group's board of directors. Carroll said in addition to the master plan, the group is also working on a five-year business plan, with the goal of finding a stable source of funding to meet the plan's goals.

While much of the network is already in place, Carroll said many of the trails need work.

Volunteers needed

That work often comes from volunteers, as it did on the West Avon Preserve, a trail-crossed swath of open space on the west end of town north of Interstate 70. Carroll said the volunteer work can extend the success of that parcel beyond trail use. Carroll's daughter last summer was on a work crew put together through Vail Resorts' EpicPromise community service group.

"Now she wants to do more," Carroll said. "Anyone who gets out there wants to do more."

Both Carroll and Barrie said the attraction of soft trails is the relative ease with which people can get into nature and away from the faster pace of pavement.

That's why the Vail plan envisions linking more neighborhoods than it does today, Barrie said. The relatively level Vail Trail also gives visitors a chance to get out into nature quickly.

That will be a big boost to the valley, Carroll said.

"If we can build something our residents love, people from outside the county will come and spend their money here," Carroll said. "We want the trails experience to rival the Vail/Beaver Creek experience."

A better experience will be a boon for locals, too.

"This is an amenity that a mountain community should have," Barrie said about the ease of slipping into a more natural environment. "A lot of people who come to visit don't have those opportunities."

Carroll added that a valleywide network of soft trails can also help bring the valley's residents together.

"People out on the trails don't say, 'I'm in Avon or Edwards or Eagle,'" Carroll said. "They just want to go out and have some fun."

What you can do now

If you want to avoid asphalt and concrete, here’s how you’d take soft trails from Vail to Avon and Minturn — once the snow melts, of course:

To Avon: Take Red Sandstone Road to Red and White Mountain Road to Nottingham Ridge Road. Then take the Buck Creek Trail into Avon.

To Minturn: Take the Vail Mountain service road to Eagles Nest, then drop into Minturn via either the Cougar Ridge or Game Creek trail. Both drop into town along the Minturn Mile.

To learn more about the Vail Valley Trail Connection, go to http://www.vailvalleytrailconnection.org.