Trail users stuck at water’s edge awhile

Hunter, 8, and Sadie Smilanich, 6, Colorado Springs siblings visiting their grandmother, are blocked along the Audubon Trail.

Local and federal government agencies tasked with maintaining dozens of miles of riverside hiking and biking trails on the Western Slope face expensive repair bills this summer, as raging rivers swollen with snowmelt have washed out several sections of concrete, asphalt and dirt paths.

Officials in most instances still are assessing the damage and haven’t determined when trails will reopen, but the cost to fix them could run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

The 1.5-mile Audubon Trail that runs between Broadway and the James M. Robb Colorado River State Park Connected Lakes Section is the latest to succumb to this year’s record runoff.

Roughly 60 feet of trail was wiped out when the Colorado River hit its peak last month, according to Greg Linza, Mesa County parks and landscape manager.

Linza said the trail was overrun because of a cut the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made in the river bank years ago to allow water to flow into ponds holding endangered fish.

Bennett Boeschenstein, a former Grand Valley Audubon Society board member, prepared the grant application that secured $150,000 in state funding for the trail when it was built in the 1980s. He said the trail, which he described as one of his favorites, has been covered by water before but never been damaged.

“There has been water across the trail, and some of the trail segments had low areas where water could come across. This is a serious thing,” Boeschenstein said.

Linza said it could cost the county $20,000 to $25,000 to replace the washed-away section, although he has had conversations with some local contractors and hopes they may donate the repair work. Reconstruction, which will include the installation of a culvert to prevent flooding in the future, could be completed in the next couple of weeks, he said.

At least three other trail sections in western Colorado have been overcome by rushing water: the recreation path through Glenwood Canyon; the Blue Heron section of the Colorado Riverfront Trail in Grand Junction; and a trail leading into the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area. Officials for the agencies that maintain those trails say they don’t know yet when they will be fixed or how much repairs will cost.

“It’s going to take some time to fix it,” BLM spokesman David Boyd said of the Dominguez-Escalante trail. “It’s not something that’s a week or two out.”

Although flooding has wreaked havoc in some areas, officials note it is a natural occurrence and offers certain benefits. With flooding, the river creates new channels, refreshes itself and brings in new vegetation, Boeschenstein said.

It also helped determine the path of the eight-mile Riverfront Trail that currently is being designed and will run between 24 Road and the Colorado Welcome Center in Fruita, Linza said.


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