Travel plan reignites controversy over canal trails as recreation

Travel plan reignites controversy over canal trails as recreation

A sign near the Grand Valley Canal at 12th Street warns against trespassing on the canal trail, part of the ditch company’s property. The canal is operated by the Grand Valley Irrigation Company.



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A sign near the Grand Valley Canal at 12th Street warns against trespassing on the canal trail, part of the ditch company’s property. The canal is operated by the Grand Valley Irrigation Company.

QUICKREAD

PUBLIC MEETING

What: Grand Junction Planning Commission meeting

When: 6 p.m. today

Where: Grand Junction City Hall, 250 N. Fifth St.

Why: The commission is expected to approve the Grand Valley Trails Master Plan

Note: The Grand Junction City Council is expected to vote on the plan at its meeting at 7 p.m. Sept. 18.



An effort to update a plan for hundreds of miles of walking, hiking and biking trails in the Grand Valley has reignited a controversy over private property rights and where it’s appropriate to recreate.

The Grand Junction Planning Commission will meet tonight potentially to decide whether to approve an amended Grand Valley Trails Master Plan — a plan that has received mixed reviews.

The plan outlines more than 1,000 miles of existing and proposed or planned trails, bike routes, bike lanes and detached paths in Grand Junction, Fruita, Palisade and the surrounding areas. Many of the proposed trails in the updated plan cover areas not included before in previous plans, the first of which was created in the 1990s.

One aspect of the updated plan is causing an old dispute to resurface: the proposed use of irrigation canal banks for recreational trails.

“It’s taking away private land rights and I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Dennis Hardrick said.

Hardrick, a farmer from Loma, said he is concerned that opening canal roads to the public would increase the amount of activity on those roads.

“For farmers it affects our livelihood. We use those roads for taking machinery in and out of fields and traveling to fields,” Hardrick said.

The irrigation and drainage entities of the Grand Valley have opposed using canal roads for recreational purposes since the idea was first proposed years ago. Safety and liability remain their chief concerns, but they also worry that trails on canals would interfere with their operations and private property rights.

Kevin Jones, superintendent for the Redlands Water and Power Company, said many of the people in his area are upset about the potential paths that would run along the canals and ditches. He said many of those canals run through private property in the urban area.

“You’d literally be riding through people’s backyards,” Jones said. “They didn’t buy those homes for that.”

Jones said he enjoys biking himself but feels what is being proposed under this master plan is unfair to landowners.

“I feel there is more to be gained from improving the current trails or sidewalks and shoulders on roads that people frequently bike on,” Jones said.

He also said Redlands Water and Power is not “anti-bike,” noting the company donated dirt and labor to build the Lunch Loop trail system off Monument Road.

Advocates of placing trails on canal roads and banks say similar efforts have worked in other communities.

“The reality is we have a lot of people moving to our community and many of them are moving from areas like Denver, Phoenix and Salt Lake City that have very successful trail bank systems. And they’re coming to our community, seeing the same canals and wondering why we can’t use them,” said Dave Grossman, executive director of the Grand Valley Trails Alliance.

Grossman, who has worked on the planning process, said many cyclists are reaching out to the alliance on trail issues. He said their response to the community has been “putting lines on maps” as part of the planning process, but those lines are not definite.

It’s about connectivity, Grossman said, and the canals are only a small portion of this large plan. Improving the areas around schools is a greater priority of the plan, he said, and proponents of the plan would like a way to connect the different recreational opportunities across the valley.

While many of the proposed trails that run along irrigation ditches and canals and natural washes lie on private property, none of the trails that would run through private property could be built without the landowner’s permission, said Ken Simms, transportation planner with the Mesa County Regional Transportation Planning Office. 

“As part of responsible planning, we have to show where future roads may or may not go to complete a comprehensive plan,” Simms said. “So some of these will go through private property but that doesn’t mean those trails are going to be built unless or until those properties develop.”

Jody Kliska, Grand Junction transportation engineer, noted the plan is for the long-term.

“We’re not building anything right away,” she said.

A copy of the plan can be found at http://www.mesacounty.us. Click on “departments,” then “Regional Transportation Planning Office,” then “Grand Valley Trails Master Plan.”



COMMENTS

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Thank you for the link to the plan.

I’m one of those who moved to this community from another community where trails were along irrigation canals. The difference between Denver and Grand Junction is that Denver doesn’t have the level of agriculture that we have, and the needs of local farmers must be considered. Those who worry about hikers and bikers on trails impacting property rights, should do a little research. In Denver, the homes that are next to hiking/biking trails see the property values go up, not down.

This should not be a controversy. It will be very rare when a walker or biker happens to be right where a farm truck is at the same time. Just put up a sign asking users to yield to farm equipment. This kind of recreation is the future of Mesa County’s economy. Agriculture and recreation should be the foundations of our economy. Trails and homes and businesses coexist all over the place. I live right on a trail and it doesn’t have any negative impact on me at all. We can easily have both and maintain a strong county economy.

So maybe we could just tear down all the fences in town and have one big back yard that everybody can use!
What do people not understand about PRIVATE PROPERTY! The irrigation companies have an easement through PRIVATE PROPERTY. That easement is not for everybody to use—only those specifically granted permission in the easement.

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