Access to Dominguez Canyon area frustrating, dangerous for hikers

Hikers and riders bound for the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area are routinely frustrated by trains blocking their way to the beckoning canyons, rock art and high plateaus beyond the rail line.

So far, no injuries have been reported among the 10,000 to 15,000 hikers who sometimes crawl under parked rail cars to reach the wilderness, and officials want to keep it that way.

The Bureau of Land Management, Union Pacific Railroad and Mesa County are looking at several possibilities to get hikers and riders safely over or under the railroad line at Bridgeport and then on to the wildlands beyond.

Plans for a new parking lot, trail head, trail and railroad crossing will be up for public discussion from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday in the old Mesa County Courthouse, 544 Rood Ave.

Railroad officials have reported seeing people crawling under rail cars that are stopped there to allow other trains to pass.

“Everybody recognizes it’s not a good situation,” Grand Junction BLM Field Office Manager Catherine Robertson said.

Trains speeding also are a hazard to hikers and animals, Robertson said.

A train whizzing past hikers returning from the wilderness area is “really an unpleasant experience” for hikers and frightening for animals such as horses, Robertson said.

Officials are looking at several railroad crossings for hikers and riders and different trails that would shunt them away from the railroad tracks. They hope public involvement will help them narrow the alternatives that could then allow the BLM, railroad and county to find ways to pay for improvements.

“Different parties will pick up different parts or components,” said Pete Baier, director of public works for Mesa County.

Robertson said she hopes some money available internally in the BLM can be found for the project.

A new trail head and trail along the north bluff overlooking the railroad and the Gunnison River would be safer and more conducive to a hike into a wilderness area, Robertson said.

“It’s a much better view. It would be up on a cliff line above everything, to there’s no safety issue” with the railroad, Robertson said.

The BLM installed a new bridge over the Gunnison in 2006 and installed traffic counters there and farther up the trail to determine how far up most hikers traveled.

The Dominquez-Escalante National Conservation Area and Dominguez Canyon Wilderness were established last year.


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