Vail Trail may get longer, wider by spring
• Current length: About 1.5 miles.
• Proposed length: About 3.75 miles, from Golden Peak to East Vail.
• Estimated project cost: $250,000.
• When will work start? Depending on local and federal approvals, perhaps in the spring of 2016.
VAIL — The Vail Trail is a narrow path that runs from Golden Peak to the Vail Golf Club. That path could get a bit wider and stretch into East Vail in the next year or two, but a few things have to happen first.
The Vail Town Council has already approved spending up to $250,000 to upgrade and extend the trail. But while much of the existing trail is on town property, it crosses private parcels in a few places. A significant part of the trail is also on U.S. Forest Service property. That means federal land managers will ultimately have to approve improvements to the existing trail.
While the trail dates back to the mid-1980s, the portions on federal land aren’t part of the official trail network on this part of the White River National Forest. Dave Neely, White River National Forest district ranger, said there’s a difference between “unofficial” and “illegal” trails — federal crews aren’t going to close it off. Still, the trail doesn’t show up on any Forest Service maps.
Still, federal land managers will require at least some level of environmental review before signing off on any town plan.
APPROVAL PROCESS PENDING
That approval process hasn’t started yet and won’t for a while. Aaron Mayville, assistant district ranger, said federal officials want to see a couple of things before starting a review. One of those things is agreements between the town and private property owners whose land is crossed by the trail.
The other thing the feds are waiting for is the opinion of the Vail Valley Trail Connection, a relatively new nonprofit group dedicated to creating a network of soft-surface trails the length of the valley.
“The goal is to make the Vail Valley a summer destination equal to the winter in stature,” group member Yuri Kostick said.
Kostick, who is also the mayor of Eagle, added that the group has made strong inroads in Avon and Eagle. But, he added, the Vail Valley Trail Connection has financial commitments from governments and districts around the valley.
As part of its work, the Vail Valley Trail Connection is compiling a database of as many trails as it can locate, whether those trails are official or not, even if they are not allowed. The group has helped close down a couple of those trails in the Edwards area and moved those users to the Berry Creek trail.
Kostick said the Vail Trail extension could be a key part of the valley-wide plan.
If it passes muster with landowners and the feds, the improved Vail Trail will be more usable than the existing one, but, in time, it won’t look all that different from what’s there now. Town of Vail landscape architect Gregg Barrie said the plan calls for building a trail platform between four and six feet wide. But, Barrie said, vegetation will be allowed to grow into much of that platform, leaving behind something that’s a little wider than the existing singletrack trail, but not by much.
Barrie said the wider trail platform will be helpful not so much for increased traffic — although that’s one goal — but so users can safely step aside for hikers and riders coming the opposite direction.
“People can pass without feeling they need to step off (the trail),” Barrie said. A bit more platform also makes the trail easier to maintain, Barrie said.
Besides the Vail Trail, Barrie said there are opportunities “all over town” for trails that will help link Vail to the rest of the valley and provide residents with quick, in-their-neighborhood access to trails for both transportation and recreation.
But the Vail Trail is the first priority now. Barrie said the town plans to hold at least a couple of open house-type sessions for residents to learn more and share their opinions.
Work on the Vail Trail could start as soon as the spring of 2016.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.