Miles of smiles along Carbondale ribbon of fun | VailDaily.com

Miles of smiles along Carbondale ribbon of fun

John Gardner
Carbondale, CO Colorado
John Gardner/Post IndependentFrom left: Megan Noonan, Cori Woodring and Kirk Gregory enjoy an afternoon break during their bike ride along the Rio Grande Trail near Catherine Store Road. Right: Carbondale resident Teri Bruna returns from work in Basalt recently on the Rio Grande Trail.
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CARBONDALE, Colorado ” Teri Bruna has found a new passion for cycling on the asphalt around Carbondale, Colorado.

“I was never much of a road biker,” Bruna admitted. “I am more of a mountain biker.”

But when the Rio Grande Trail was completed in May 2008, it didn’t take long for Bruna to find a used 10-speed road bike and start pedaling herself to work.

“It’s so nice to get on the bike early in the morning,” she said.

The trail stretches 44 miles through the towns of Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Basalt, Woody Creek and Aspen along the Roaring Fork River and Highway 82. The trail has a gentle average grade from Glenwood to Aspen and is paved except for a six-mile soft surface dirt trail near Woody Creek. The final two miles into Aspen is paved.

It takes Bruna about an hour to ride the 13 miles from her house in Carbondale to work at the Roaring Fork Club in Basalt. It only takes her about 40 minutes on the return ride. But it’s a great way to start and end the day, she said.

“You get to work and you’ve already got your workout in,” Bruna said.

Biking to work also helped her save money during the summer months last year when gas prices were still more than $4 a gallon. Bruna said that she only filled her car’s gas tank three times all summer because she didn’t drive to work as often.

She rode her blue-vintage Trek cycle an average of three days a week to work. Over the three months that translated into 39 round trips, and approximately 1,034 miles.

Not bad for a woman who wasn’t particularly fond of road biking before.

She is not alone.

One busy trail

According to Michael Hermes, Roaring Fork Transit Authority’s director of properties and trails, sections of the trail saw upwards of 75,000 people, riding, walking, running, skateboarding, cross country skiing or whatever from January through August 2008.

“It’s tremendous,” Hermes said. “I figured it would be very popular, but I think it’s more popular than even I anticipated. It’s really a great success.”

Hermes said that RFTA installed four infrared counters to track when something passes a certain point in the trail. The counters track traffic in both directions whenever something breaks the infrared beam.

The four counters are located near Buffalo Valley south of Glenwood Springs, one in Carbondale at Main Street, one at Catherine Store Bridge, and one near Rock Bottom Ranch.

The Carbondale at Main Street counter recorded the highest usage at 68,547, for January through August 2008, while the lowest was the Buffalo Valley counter, which recorded 39,879.

“I don’t know if that was one guy going back and fourth 39,000 times or what,” Hermes said. “But that is basically how many people passed those points last year.”

The only point where Hermes collected data for all of 2008 was the Carbondale at Main Street counter. That one point recorded 75,843 trips.

“That is probably the busiest one,” he said. “75,000 people passing one particular point is a lot of people.”

The numbers confirm what people have been saying for the past year.

“Definitely,” said Ed Phillips, manager of AJAX Bike and Sport in Carbondale. “The people that I’ve spoken with are very happy with the bike trail.”

Phillips said that he’s had people who live in Snowmass Village come to Carbondale to rent a bike just to ride the Rio Grande Trail.

He said that he’s also seen an increase in hybrid bike sales. Hybrid bikes are made for comfort and cruising, unlike road and mountain bikes, Phillips said. And he’s been renting and selling those hybrid bikes to people that aren’t necessarily avid riders, he said, but people that are getting back into the sport after a few years off.

“I’ve heard a lot of people saying, ‘I’m not a mountain biker, and I don’t want to ride on the road, but I want to ride again,'” Phillips said. “So, the bike path is a good fit for them.”

The trail has also drawn the attention of people far and wide, not just local interest.

In October 2008, the trail was awarded the Outstanding Community Tourism Initiative Award by Gov. Bill Ritter. That is one of the reasons that the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association will use the Rio Grande Trail as one of the main attractions for its 2009 summer activities promoting Glenwood Springs to potential visitors.

Hermes also thinks that the trail had something to do with the state’s two major bike tours, Ride the Rockies and The Bike Tour of Colorado, coming through the Roaring Fork Valley in June.

“I think it had something to do with Ride the Rockies,” Hermes said. “I don’t think it was the deciding factor.”

Ride the Rockies has already asked Hermes for a permit to use a section of the trail for part of its 380-mile tour, which rides June 14-19. Ride the Rockies used a portion of the trail last year as well, and Hermes said the use of the trail was very smooth.

“It’s a very well run operation,” he said about the bike tour. “We had no problems the last time, so we’re expecting the same thing this year.”

Even if the trail is not the main reason for all the added attention, in Hermes’ opinion, it’s still a great recreational addition for the valley.

“I don’t think (the trail) hurts us,” he said. “It help us that there is a nice, off-the-road, way to get through this valley.”

And for locals like Bruna, who use the trail to commute to work more than for recreation, she agrees with Hermes that it’s a great alternative to driving.

“It’s great to have an alternative,” Bruna said. “With the birds, the flowers, the river, it’s so nice to have that view in the morning rather than the traffic on Highway 82 and the cars.”

Contact John Gardner: 384-9114 or jgardner@postindependent.com