The Arkansas River Stage and Rail Trail took a big step toward reality this week when it was named as one of 16 trail projects placed on the governor’s high-priority project list for 2016.
Gov. John Hickenlooper made the announcement through email Wednesday as part of Colorado the Beautiful’s “16 in 2016” initiative.
The initiative and identification of the trails is designed to build upon existing support and partnerships to push the trail projects to completion, according to Hickenlooper’s release.
“This was a highly competitive selection process in which the governor’s Department of Natural Resources team in his Colorado the Beautiful initiative considered some 200 nominations,” said Alan Robinson, Stage and Rail Trail working group leader.
“Trails on the 16 list have been singled out as especially worthy of state-level political – and potentially financial – support because of their likely roles in helping Colorado meet the governor’s ambitious goals for trails and greenways outlined in his 2015 State of the State address,” Robinson said. “In that report he announced that ‘… the vision of Colorado the Beautiful is that within a generation, every Coloradan will live within 10 minutes of a park, trail or vibrant green space.’ ”
Hickenlooper reported that no state dollars are tied to the projects. However, Great Outdoors Colorado is dedicating the first $10 million of $30 million it plans to use for its Connect Initiative to be used for the 16 trails.
The projects were selected based on several criteria, including their economic development potential, their proximity to underserved communities, the need for new paved and natural surface multi-use trails, the potential for greater partnerships across all levels of government, nonprofits and the private sector and the project’s ability to support environmental stewardship, the governor’s release stated.
The release also stated most of the selected projects have been under development for years and already benefit from local support and partnerships. Some trail projects are larger and will need significant additional investment; others are more localized and need a push to get over the finish line.
Hickenlooper will create an interagency council composed of relevant state agencies and offices. The council will ensure appropriate coordination occurs across state government to promote trail projects and outdoor recreation, and it will work closely with the newly formed Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry and the Colorado Pedals Project.
Other projects planned are Colorado Front Range Trail, Lower Valley Trail, Rocky Mountain Greenway, Colorado Riverfront Trail; Ring the Peak, Peaks to Plans Trail, High Line Canal, Fremont Pass Trail, Alpine Loop Backcountry Byway;Crested Butte to Carbondale Trail, Eagle Valley Trail, Palisade Plunge, Paths to Mesa Verde, North Elk Creek and the Eldo-Walker Trail Connection.
The Stage and Rail Trail is proposed to run the 64-mile route spanning Chaffee and Lake counties from Salida to Leadville that follows rail lines and a historic stage road.
“The Stage and Rail Trail is a vision promoted over the past 8 years by a local team under the Salida-based Greater Arkansas River Nature Association,” Robinson said. Working closely with the Chaffee and Lake county commissioners, the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area and BLM, the Leadville District of the San Isabel National Forest and the towns of Salida, Buena Vista and Leadville, a 2012 feasibility study led to a 2015 draft master plan now on the table.
“Both planning exercises incorporated input from private landowners, recreational groups, wildlife specialists of Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the general public,” Robinson said.
“We’re waiting on a grant proposal we sent to Colorado Trails Program on behalf of the Stage and Rail Trail that is progressing through the process,” said Alison Ramsey, GARNA executive director. Ramsay said that grant would help the working group take the master plan and work with various groups to get things going on the ground.
“We’re extremely pleased and excited the governor officially recognized this great project,” Ramsey said. “We’re working on a way to move it toward becoming a reality.”
Robinson, a retired national park planner and long-time GARNA board member who has been leading the S&RT team, said grant applications have been submitted that if awarded, would allow for some initial implementation and to select a paid trail project director responsible for seeking funding for completing the trail.
“During the coming year it is hoped all the potential trail partners will formally designate the trail within their jurisdictions and agree on specific details of the master plan,” he said.
When the mater plan was unveiled at a public meeting in Buena Vista in November, 2014, it met with resistance from some Granite-area landowners.
“The master plan has prosed a number of alternative routes where there was opposition from landowners and the Colorado Division of Wildlife,” Ramsay said, noting most of DOW’s objections centered around bighorn sheep habitat.
“At this time it is not clear what direct impact the Governor’s 16 Trails designation will have on the S&RT. But the program is intended to focus attention on resolving remaining issues like specific trail routes, management regulations, opportunities to acquire easements and locating financial assistance to open or build sections of trail and trailhead facilities.”
Regardless of specifics, as Robinson points out, the visibility brought by this considerable honor will provide a welcome incentive to all the trail’s partners to work together to make this long-developing concept become a reality. And that, he adds, would be a really big deal from the perspective of trail users themselves as well as in terms of social and economic benefits.
More information is available at www.garna.org/stageandrail.