Interstate 70, river pinch bike trail route
Trying to have a conversation on a thin section of right of way off Interstate 70 by the Colorado River is nearly impossible with semitrailers and sedans whizzing by at 75 mph.
It’s here, about a quarter-mile east of the 20 Road overpass on the eastbound shoulder, where Bob Engelke takes issue with a proposed bike path. The Colorado Department of Transportation right of way is about 15-feet wide in this section, bolstered by riprap, or large rocks and fill dirt, that is being eaten away by the river. This area is part of a section that Mesa County planners are seeking approval for a bike path to connect Grand Junction and Fruita.
Directly across the channel is an island, of which Engelke owns a part. If engineers allow crews to add more fill and rocks to the narrow section to create the bike path, the Redlands resident fears the ensuing reroute of the river will erode the island where he occasionally hunts ducks.
“Look at this,” Engelke said, standing on the bank that is sloughing off. “This is all falling away.”
Community planners and volunteers for at least the past two decades have dreamed of connecting a bike-trail system to span the Grand Valley along the Colorado River from Palisade to Fruita. Sections have been completed in Grand Junction and Palisade, but the largest remaining connection is from Grand Junction to Fruita.
Those dreams are being put into motion as construction should begin in the fall for the first of three sections of the Grand Junction to Fruita trail. The trail will go from 24 Road to the Walter Walker State Wildlife Area.
Mesa County planners have submitted a plan to the Transportation Department and the Army Corps of Engineers to mostly follow the Colorado River en route to Fruita, which will include some of the path’s second section. It will be at least a month until the county hears back on whether the plans for the second section are workable, said Tom Fisher, Mesa County’s regional services director.
Fisher said he, too, finds the section in question unsettling. While it will be expensive to reinforce the bank and construct a cement path in the narrow area, the costs are less than attempting to purchase other privately owned sections of land on alternative routes for a trail, he said.
“We have exactly the same concerns, but from a different perspective,” Fisher said. “We’ve had the route planned for quite a long time. Whether it’s actually feasible or not is not clear.”
Fisher said bike trails have been built in known floodways in Mesa County in the past. Low areas include under the Fifth Street bridge and a new section of trail under Colorado Highway 141’s bridge on 32 Road. Such sections are built knowing they will flood, but they are key sections to provide continuity of the trail.
“Those sections are built to handle that,” Fisher said. “Those sections are closed when they flood, and when the water lowers you sweep off the mud and can use it again.”
Fisher said the trail construction is similar to road construction and can be handled under a minor site-plan review, and the county is attempting to get information to the public about the trail plans.
Bennett Boeschenstein, a board member with the Colorado Riverfront Commission, said the roughly one-mile section in question is similar to a path in Glenwood Canyon that runs near the river and the interstate. It also would fulfill the Riverfront Commission’s goal of having a trail actually go alongside the river.
Bolstering the area should have the added benefit of reinforcing the interstate, he said.
“The ideal location (for a path) is along the river,” Boeschenstein said.
Engelke said having a path run along the narrow section will disrupt wildlife on the island and cost more to build than securing land along alternative routes, such as U.S. Highway 6&50 or River Road.
He said he wasn’t allowed to formally comment on construction of the trail during a public hearing, and he said the plan should not be reviewed as a minor site plan, Rather, he said, it is a major undertaking, and the process should require public hearings.
Engelke said he is not opposed to trail building in general. During his time as a community planner, he facilitated a land donation to help Connected Lakes State Park become a recreation area.
“By treating the project as a minor site plan and avoiding the public-hearing process, the county has foreclosed any meaningful opportunity to raise these concerns or present evidence for consideration by the decision makers,” he said in a letter to the Mesa County Commission.
Funding for the trail’s first section comes from a Great Outdoors Colorado grant, funds saved by the Colorado Riverfront Commission and Mesa County funds dedicated to capital improvements.