Riverfront Project continues to grow, with help of community

By Katie Steele

In June, I completed a six-year term on the Riverfront Commission, including four years as co-chairman. It was a very exciting and rewarding time to be on the commission and to be involved with the Riverfront Project. The commission today continues to pursue the vision developed by the group’s founders more than a quarter century ago.

To give a little background, the Riverfront Project was formally started a little over 25 years ago. It began with the cleanup of junkyards on Watson Island, south of downtown on the Colorado River. The vision then grew from the initial cleanup to the protection and preservation of the riverfront. This vision included the construction of a trail and parks along the Colorado River from Palisade to Fruita and beyond to the Utah state line.

Now, more than 25 years later, the Riverfront Commission is still the primary advocate and ambassador for our Riverfront Project. The commission is an 11-member group appointed by representatives from Mesa County, the city of Grand Junction, the city of Fruita and the town of Palisade.

The Riverfront Commission works with various local, state and federal partners, as well as private property owners, nonprofits and individuals. The common bond among all the partners is the past, present and future commitment and dedication to the preservation, restoration, protection and the enjoyment of our rivers.

The Riverfront Commission is still very focused on the completion of the Riverfront Trail from Palisade to Fruita. But, the group is also involved with, and supportive of, future efforts to expand the trail from Palisade east to the Garfield County line, west to the Kokopelli Trailhead near Loma and south from Grand Junction to the city of Delta. A good portion of the trail connection to Delta could run through the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, starting at the Whitewater Boat Launch and running south parallel to the Gunnison River all the way to Delta.

A great deal has been accomplished over the last 25 years due to the efforts of many. Last year, Mesa County completed Phase I of the Monument View Section of the Riverfront Trail. This phase runs from the Redlands Parkway west to the Walter Walker Wildlife Area. The county has now started Phase II, which will run next to the frontage road from the Colorado Welcome Center in Fruita east to 18 1/2 Road.

Phase III is the crucial connection from Grand Junction to Fruita and will be constructed beside the river from the Walter Walker Wildlife Area west to 18 1/2 Road.

The three phases of the Monument View Section of the Riverfront Trail amount to the single largest project of trail construction in the 25-year history of the Riverfront Project, totaling 8.4 miles. Once all three phases are completed in 2014, you will be able to walk or ride your bike from Fruita to Las Colonias Park in downtown Grand Junction, traversing more than 25 miles of Riverfront Trail.

The next exciting event will be Las Colonias Park, which is located east of the Fifth Street Bridge and runs along the Colorado River to 27 1/2 Road. At the July 3 City Council meeting, the council approved the 2013 master plan for Las Colonias, although the council members did not commit to an appropriation of funds or to a specific timeline. The council gave direction to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to seek funding commitments from grants, donations and more to start the process. Once those commitments are obtained, the City Council will review adding matching funds for Las Colonias.

The Western Colorado Botanical Gardens and the Edgewater Brewery are already near Las Colonias. To complete the area, the 2013 master plan includes an amphitheater, lakes, trails, a native-plant garden, dog park, boat launch and even a zip line over the Colorado River. There will also be a disc golf course on Watson Island — the same Watson Island that used to be a junkyard.

Las Colonias could be an incredible addition to the string of river parks that includes Riverbend Park in Palisade and the James M. Robb Colorado State Park in Fruita. I hope we see Las Colonias Park completed in the near future for the benefit of all.

Funding for these endeavors has come from many sources. Great Outdoors Colorado has been a major contributor, as well as countless businesses, individuals, service clubs, foundations and governmental agencies. The funds realized from our tax dollars would not have been sufficient to cover all the costs, so these alternative funding sources are essential.

Once all the connections are made, our local trail system will reach out to our neighbors. This network of trails will add value to our valley-wide trail systems for the benefit of all of us who live here, as well as for our visitors.

The parks along the trail provide wonderful opportunities for people to attend outdoor concerts and festivals and enjoy water features, picnic areas and, most especially, the enjoyment of our rivers — all in an urban setting.

The parks are, and will be, in close proximity to our homes and accessible to all.

The Riverfront Project remains an incredible resource for recreational purposes, getting our children involved in the outdoors and the protection of rivers, wildlife and riparian areas.

But the Riverfront Project would not be possible if not for the continued support of our community and local elected governmental officials. You are all invaluable to the continued success and the future development of the Riverfront Project and our local trail systems. Thank you for all your efforts, support and hard work.

Katie Steele is a longtime resident of the Grand Valley and former member of the Riverfront Commission.


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