Public access to Eagle River to improve | VailDaily.com

Public access to Eagle River to improve

Tamara Miller

The Vail Christian school will get a permanent home in Edwards and the public will get a little more freedom to use the Eagle River.The Eagle County Board of Commissioners approved Vail Christian High School’s plans to build a new, permanent school building in western Edwards Wednesday but only after the county acquired several pieces of land the school doesn’t want to keep.”I wanted to make sure we had public access to the river,” said Commissioner Tom Stone. “As development applications come before us, the board’s responsibility is to keep good public access to the river… and it’s good for economic development because of the gold medal waters there.”Most of land surrounding the river on the west side of Hillcrest Road is privately owned. The state’s Land Board sold 280 acres of land there to Wilmore Lake Developers, which in turn sold the parcel to Vail Christian. The school only wants about 10 acres of that land and planned to give most of it back to the Cordillera Property Owners Association to use as a private fishing area for its residents. But the commissioners seized the opportunity to expand public access by requiring the county receive a small portion of riverfront on the east side of the land. Cordillera still gets its private fishing area and public access is expanded a bit, Stone said. “Just east of there is a typical put-in, take-out for rafts and kayaks,” Stone said. “It made sense for us to own that adjoining property.”Trail spaceVail Christian originally intended to give land along the existing railroad to the county, said Commissioner Michael Gallagher. Instead, the plan presented to the board Wednesday would have given most of the land back to the Cordillera property owners County commissioners quickly asked them to reconsider and Vail Christian at first resisted.”We had to pay a premium price,” said Michael Mutter, who has lead the school’s facilities committee. “With that we also get property rights.”Mutter added Cordillera property owners would be able to control access to the river, which will run close to the proposed school. Campus security is also an issue, he said. After some debate, Vail Christian agreed to the changes and the commissioners approved the plan unanimously. The commissioners also want the land under the stretch of railroad that runs on that parcel to be in the hands of a public entity. ECO Trails hopes to eventually build a continuous trail that runs across the county. Its master plan calls for a trail running along the railway there.”The entire system has been planned,” Gallagher said. “It’s appropriate to have it where we can connect it with the rest of it.”Ready for rail? But Stone said the commissioners also are trying to prepare for the future. There still is a desire to someday create a light-rail system linking the eastern end of the valley to the Eagle County Regional Airport. That system, as envisioned, would run along the existing train tracks. If the land on this parcel belonged to the property owners association, acquiring the land for that light-rail system would be more complicated.”If the Cordillera Property Owners Association had owned that land, then they could have held Eagle County up for ransom in the future to sell us an easement across the property that they owned,” Stone said. Gallagher said he sees other transportation possibilities in which the Colorado Department of Transportation could become involved. “CDOT has plans to run people on that track as part of the monorail system, which is far from dead,” Gallagher said. “Nobody is going to put anything on it this year. What we are trying to do is (to look towards the future).”Vail Christian High has already sold a portion of the property on the east side to Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, making the water district a co-applicant for the project. Commissioner Arn Menconi, who was recently elected to the water district’s board, recused himself from voting on the application. Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at tmiller@vaildaily.com or by calling 949-0555, ext. 607.