Fruita trail plan off course, residents say
Proposal would place rec areas next to private waterways, canal users don’t like Fruita plan for hikers
By MIKE WIGGINS
Ray Floyd has shooed away the occasional all-terrain vehicle, motorcycle and horseback rider from the banks of the Grand Valley Canal, which borders the south end of his five-acre property between Fruita and Grand Junction. He’s heard the pop of an air pistol and picked up the silver shells littering his land.
It’s a nuisance he fears could grow into a major problem if Fruita city officials proceed with a plan that would allow the public to recreate in narrow areas sandwiched between private property.
A parks, open space and trails master plan that proposes building hiking and biking trails next to canals, ditches and washes is drawing criticism from Lower Valley residents, who were upset to find dotted lines representing potential trails drawn through their properties on the draft plan.
Those same landowners say the plan should be canned because it could encourage trespassing and endanger those who flirt with the waterways.
“A plan this extreme jeopardizes public safety,” Floyd said.
The proposal also is raising the eyebrows of the Grand Valley Irrigation Co., a private company that owns and operates nearly 100 miles of canals in the Grand Valley and has fought various attempts from local governments over the years to place trails on top of or next to canal easements.
Fruita Mayor Ken Henry says city officials understand the concerns. But he said people have played in or near canals since the local system was built more than a century ago. And he believes a combination of law enforcement and public education will encourage would-be trail users to stay off private property.
“Urbanization of lands adjacent to canal banks is going to continue,” Henry said. “There’s always going to be that pressure for people. It’s just a logical area for people to hike and take a dip, and nothing’s changed.
“We hope that with reasonable signage and reasonable education that people will understand that this is where you need to stay,” Henry said.
As for the maps depicting possible trails through private property, the mayor blamed EDAW, the Fort Collins-based consultant hired by the city to put together the plan, for acting presumptively and made it clear he was angry with the firm.
“That’s unfair (to landowners),” he said. “It would be the same thing if I drew a line through your property and told you what I was going to do with it.”
The Fruita Planning Commission is expected to vote tonight on whether to recommend approval of the plan. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Fruita Civic Center.
The plan, as it’s currently crafted, would require developers of subdivisions adjacent to primary trails identified in the plan to donate a portion of their project for a trail. Henry said the city could seek to acquire additional land from other landowners willing to sell so that more trails could be built. But he said it won’t force property owners to sell or acquire land for trails through eminent domain.
In the meantime, the city has backed away from talks of trying to build trails on top of canal easements after the Grand Valley Irrigation Co. threatened to sue, Superintendent Phil Bertrand said.
But even a plan to build a trail side-by-side with a canal or ditch easement could be fraught with conflicts that need to be addressed, he said.
For instance, Bertrand suggested a security fence would need to be installed to physically separate hikers and bikers from the canal.
“Everything is possible,” he said. “But it’s, ‘How do you do that in a safe, secure way?’ ”
But Floyd and Loma resident Pat Bittle believe the city’s plan will encourage people to trespass on their property. That helps explain why they’ve collected hundreds of signatures on petitions asking the City Council to remove from the draft plan’s maps all proposed trails outside city limits.
Floyd, who raises pigs and goats and keeps several storage sheds and vehicles on his land, said he’s concerned about vandalism and theft if the public is granted access a matter of feet away. He gestured toward the expanse of BLM land at the base of the Bookcliffs.
“There’s plenty of space for people to recreate,” he said.