County pushes to finish Riverfront Trail
The recent purchase of 15 acres in Fruita for the Colorado Riverfront Trail represents more than a critical connection between the river and the city and an at-last success for officials who have been trying to snag it for years.
It is the latest step in a ramped-up effort by Mesa County and other local governments and nonprofit groups to add several links to what will eventually be a continuous chain of asphalt and concrete paths running alongside the river. County officials have set an ambitious goal of completing the Riverfront Trail between Palisade and Fruita by 2014.
Stakeholders say they are doing more now to buy land and design and build trails than in several years.
“It’s an exciting time because these things go in waves,” said John Gormley, co-chairman of the Colorado Riverfront Commission and a member of the Colorado Riverfront Foundation board of directors. “You get a trough for a while where you’re working on things in the background, and then you get a jolt. It really feels like we’re in one of those (jolts) right now.”
In addition to taking possession of the tract in Fruita, Mesa County will have completed a 2 1/2-mile section of trail in Clifton and designed an eight-mile stretch between 24 Road and the Colorado Welcome Center in Fruita by the end of this year. Altogether, more than $2.5 million in public and private funds will have been sunk into those projects this year.
The county has budgeted $5 million for expanding the Riverfront Trail in the next four years, according to Greg Linza, the county’s parks and landscape manager. He keeps busy these days negotiating purchases with land owners, working with contractors and applying for grants to help leverage local tax dollars invested in Riverfront Trail work.
“It’s taken 25 years to get what we have and we may be able to double that in four or five years,” Linza said.
Some view the Riverfront Trail as a recreational amenity, giving hikers and bikers an opportunity to enjoy a resource once marred by junkyards and uranium mill tailings. Others, like County Commissioner Craig Meis, see it as an alternative transportation corridor that eases congestion on local roads.
For him, the Riverfront Trail has taken on increased importance in the past couple of years because it’s needed to connect to other parts of the community.
“It’s pretty sad you can’t ride your bike to work safely in some parts of the city and county,” he said.