For trails plan, death of an urban myth?

Water companies and property owners applauded — literally — a decision Monday by Mesa County commissioners to retire a plan that outlines where recreational trails may be developed in the future.

About 25 people clapped as commissioners voted 3-0 at the board’s weekly administrative meeting Monday morning to toss the county’s Urban Trails Master Plan.

Created in 1997, the plan mapped places where biking and pedestrian paths could go in the future. Some of those proposed trails are on privately owned land, including canal and ditch areas owned by water and irrigation entities.

Mark Harris, general manager of Grand Valley Water Users’ Association, told commissioners he and six other water and irrigation companies declared support for the resolution sunsetting the Urban Trails Master Plan because some people took the map of future trails proposed on company property as an invitation to use those areas before they could officially become trails with company permission. That’s despite the plan specifically stating the map does not show existing trails or allow people to hike or bike on private property.

“The Urban Trails policy has led to the public perception that our ditches and canals are open to public use,” he said. “It’s trespassing we have little ability to stop.”

Water, recreation

Commissioner John Justman said misunderstandings about the trails plan map can create problems for water companies and, if someone has an accident on their property, raise their insurance costs.

“They are in the water business, not the recreation business,” Justman said. “It’s a good move to give them some certainty they don’t have be out there being traffic coordinators for people.”

Commissioner Rose Pugliese said getting rid of the Urban Trails Master Plan was a way to protect private property rights. Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said trail development and use needs to wait for private property owner permission, which he believes the resolution emphasizes.

Redlands homeowner Darleen Gsell said she worries about vandalism, safety and liability issues related to people using proposed trails on private land. Redlands property owner Thomas Burrows said he worried trail proponents would use the Urban Trails Master Plan to push for proposed trails to become reality before property owners were ready.

“These are indeed not just lines on a map,” Burrows told commissioners.

Cities’ views

No audience members spoke in favor of keeping the Urban Trails Master Plan, but that doesn’t mean the decision was heralded by everyone.

Fruita Community Development Director Dahna Raugh said the plan didn’t have much proposed for Fruita and the city has its own trail plans, but she is concerned the abolishment of the county plan will give commissioners less incentive in the future to have developers set aside easements for future trail expansion.

“The part that concerns me is the disinterest in bicycle and pedestrian transportation,” she said.

Grand Junction Deputy City Manager Tim Moore said he’s not exactly sure what the county’s change will mean for local development but he said the city will continue to plan and develop trails within city limits based on its own trails plan.

Palisade Town Administrator Rich Sales said Palisade trustees have discussed the county’s move and agree with the decision. Sales said trustees requested staff amend a town plan for proposed trails to eliminate trails on irrigation property but that work has not been completed.

The resolution defers trail developers to standards outlined in the Mesa County Standard Specification for Road and Bridge Construction and any standards or maps that may go in the Mesa County 2040 Regional Transportation Plan. Work on that plan, which covers all methods of transport, will begin soon. Acquafresca said anything omitted by the retirement of the Urban Trails Master Plan that people later decide they want back may go into the 2040 plan.


COMMENTS

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I own property with a recreation easement that was negotiated with the developer by the county about 15 years ago. Since I purchased the land with the easement in place, my situation differs from owners who see lines drawn across their land without their involvement or consent.

I can see why they might object. I can also say we’ve had no issues, and visitors from around the country who stay at our house rave about our access to recreation.

My concern here is with the Commissioners who seem unsupportive of trail development in general, including well-established ones like the Riverfront Trails.

Someday, perhaps the county will again elect people who see trails and other healthy outdoor amenities as economic drivers—not just oil and gas.

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