Canal paths plan is blocked

To the cheers of irrigation users who packed a City Hall meeting Tuesday night, the Grand Junction Planning Commission unanimously decided not to recommend an updated Urban Trails Master Plan for approval by the City Council.

The opposition’s central complaint: a plan for trails along the Grand Valley’s irrigation canals, ditches and drainages.

The Urban Trails Master Plan, which was hatched a decade ago, already included drawings for trails along canal banks. The newly proposed version included an additional 621 miles of all manners of trails in the Grand Valley.

There currently are about 406 miles of trails, which include bike lanes and dirt paths, around the Grand Valley.

Dozens of people crammed inside the City hall auditorium during a four-hour meeting,  which at times turned vitriolic. They were there to either root for or against the approximately 189 miles of potential trails along the irrigation waterways.

“I think that most people who don’t ride are afraid of traffic,” said Martin Stafford, who identified himself as a bicycle commuter. “I think if there were more trails people would ride.”

Planning commissioners said they didn’t feel that all the criteria set forth by the city’s planning process were met for them to recommend approval by the City Council.

Planning Commissioner Jon Buschhorn said he was excited when he first saw the new trail plan because it outlined a way to get from the north to the south end of the Grand Valley without having to battle motor vehicle traffic.

However, after hearing an abundance of testimony on Tuesday, Buschhorn concluded the plan first needed more details to be ironed out.

Residents who opposed the inclusion of trails along canals in the trail master plan said they didn’t oppose trails in general, and that they weren’t opposed to biking and hiking. Rather, they worried about their property rights being trampled; about people drowning in the waterways because of its steep banks; that allowing people on the trails would impede irrigation workers from doing their jobs; liability concerns; and that an increase in people near the canals would expose equipment to vandalism. Others who live on property that lines up to canals said people have come to think they are entitled to walk on the service roads.

“We post no trespassing signs. You see a lot of disregard for the signs,” said Fred Aldrich, an attorney for all the area’s irrigation companies. “It’s as if we are interfering with them. What we have experienced in 131 years is public use of the canals has not been a good experience.”


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