Engineering firm Loris and Associates presented their preliminary analysis of the proposed Paths to Mesa Verde trail to the Montezuma County commissioners and stakeholders on Thursday.
The 20-mile nonmotorized trail would connect Cortez and Mancos with Mesa Verde National Park.
The ideal location and design of the trail is currently being studied via maps and preliminary surveying on the ground, said Pete Loris, president of the firm. Preferred trail alignments are expected to be presented in February.
“We’re looking at possibilities within a 4-mile wide band along Highway 160 between Cortez and Mancos,” Loris said.
The county said that besides the main trail, spurs to the county fairgrounds, Phil’s World trail system, Southwest Colorado Community College, U.S. 160 rest stop, and the national park are also a priority.
“I’d like to see the trail go through the countryside for a better experience, rather than all along the highway,” said commissioner Keenan Ertel, echoing a sentiment found in surveys conducted last year.
Proposed main trailheads were at Montezuma-Cortez High School, Mesa Verde National Park and Cottonwood Park in Mancos.
A lot of work lies ahead for the ambitious plan, officials said, and phased construction would not start before 2018
The area proposed for trail is a mix of state, federal and private land, including private lands with conservation easements.
Once a route is agreed upon, the real work begins, including detailed surveys, construction plans, fundraising, and negotiating easements across private land, federal land, and CDOT rights of way.
In addition, environmental studies and cultural surveys are needed where the trail crosses Mesa Verde National Park and Bureau of Land Management land.
“It is tied to federal lands and federal dollars, so is subject to the National Environmental Policy Act,” Clementson said. “The area has high density of cultural resources, so we want to work with the county on the alignment to make sure the trail avoids those, and riparian and wetland areas.”
Park Superintendent Cliff Spencer added that the new trail is included in a visitor distribution plan being formulated at Mesa Verde that includes new trails and shuttle services to trailheads.
A $400,000 planing grant, awarded for the project in 2014 from federal transportation funds, is being administered through the Colorado Department of Transportation.
CDOT and the county are taking the lead on the trail, and it would be maintained by the county, likely in partnership with other stakeholders. Because it is a designated state transportation trail connecting communities, it is required to be plowed in winter for year-round access.
The trail project must meet CDOT engineering rules and federal easement specifications. And because federal funding is involved, it must be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The trail would be 10 feet wide, and depending on the width of the easement, room could be provided for a separate equestrian trail. To accommodate horse use, planners said they will try and identify areas where the trail could lead horses users to public lands with open meadows for riding.
CDOT representatives said a paved path is the best option for longevity and for ADA compliance, but it’s possible a soft path could meet requirements in certain situations.
“The goal is to be ADA-compliant, and we may also need rest areas,” said CDOT engineer Robert Shanks.
Engineers recommended a concrete trail because it is long-lasting – 50-60 years versus 10-20 years for asphalt.
Although in certain soils, it was noted that asphalt could withstand freezing and thawing better than concrete.
County permitting is expected to be minimal because no major buildings are involved, said county planning director LeeAnn Milligan. But the planners would help oversee bridge development, culverts and negotiating easements.
“We will be a liaison for landowners,” Milligan said.
County, Cortez and Mancos officials support the new trail and said it’s important to connect it to the existing trails systems. For example, using way signs along roads and sidewalks to direct hotel visitors to the new trail and to current trail heads at Carpenter, Geer, and Denny Lake, said Cortez planner Tracie Hughes.
Paths to Mesa Verde is a priority for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper under his Colorado the Beautiful trail program.
“It is ideal for the state because it connects two major communities and a national park,” said Chris Kehmeier, a trail project manager for the program. “A main trunk trail like this acts as a stimulus for connecting trails that branch off to other communities and trails such as to the nearby Colorado Trail.”
Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne agrees. She was in Cortez this week checking out Phil’s World, promoting the new trail, and meeting with stakeholders.
“I appreciate the hard work and enthusiasm for trails in this community,” Lynne said during a meeting in Cortez Thursday. “Trails support tourism and promote a healthy lifestyle for our kids, saving money on health care costs. We look forward to coming down here when the trail opens.”
Community meetings on Paths to Mesa Verde are planned for November, January, and March, with dates and times to be announced.
“Look ahead, and ‘ride like you did as a kid,’ were good tips,” Colorado Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne said during a mountain bike tour of Phil’s World with local dignitaries Thursday.
The advice from local mountain biking enthusiast Dani Gregory was key for Lynne, who has a lot of road biking experience, but was only on a mountain bike for the second time.
“It was fun and pretty challenging,” Lynne said after the ride. “Your trail system is a great community resource for recreation.”
Along with Gregory and this reporter, Lynne was joined on the ride by Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla, Cortez City Manager Shane Hale, Executive Director for Colorado Commissioner Affairs Ernest House, BLM staffer Jennifer Jardine, and Colorado the Beautiful Project Manager Chris Kehmeier.
The tour of the local trail was part of a promotional event and strategy session for the planned Paths of Mesa Verde, a 20-mile nonmotorized trail that would connect Cortez and Mancos with Mesa Verde National Park.
“We are so pleased to have you experience first hand the great trails we have to offer,” said Montezuma County commissioner Larry Don Suckla. “We’re planning for a lot more.”
In January, Paths to Mesa Verde made Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s “16 most important trails,” part of the Colorado the Beautiful project.
While the designation does not come with guaranteed funding, “It gives the trail project more priority, and more facilitation at the next level up,” said Kehmeier. “Trails that link communities are part of a long-term plan for Colorado.”
Although it will take years for the trail to be funded developed, Lynne said she could sense the enthusiasm for Paths to Mesa Verde and plans to report that back to Hickenlooper.
“I’m going to tell him lets get this trail done, there is a lot of steam behind it,” she said.