The Daily Sentinel has long argued that many of the canal roads throughout the Grand Valley could serve effectively as recreational trails without damaging private property or causing liability problems for those who own the land adjacent to the canals.
Such arrangements have worked in other locations, and we believe legal protections could be enacted here that would allow hundreds of miles of canal banks to be used for recreational purposes.
But we also adamantly believe that use of those roads and canal banks for recreation cannot be accomplished without the explicit support of the canal companies, water users associations and the landowners involved.
The current draft of a Grand Valley Trails Master Plan — which unilaterally includes many canal roads as potential recreational trails without the approval of those groups — only stirs up hard feelings. It makes it less likely the canal groups will be open to accepting agreements for the recreational use of those roads and canal banks, not more so.
We realize that approval of the trails master plan, whether as a draft or final product, does not mean the canals will automatically be opened up to recreational use.
As Ken Simms, transportation planner with the Mesa County Regional Transportation Planning Office noted, none of the trails that would run through private property could be built without the landowners’ permission.
That is scant comfort, however, to a landowner who suddenly finds a recreational trail mapped across his or her property, or on the canal road that crosses through an easement on that property. It lends a certain degree of inevitability to the recreational trails, even if the landowners and canal companies continue to oppose them. Additionally, viewing those lines on the maps of the trails master plan may encourage people to use the trails for recreational activities even if such use hasn’t been legally approved.
Truth be told, most of the canal roads in the valley have been the site of some amount of recreational use for more than a century. Hikers, horseback riders and bicyclists have all used various sections of canal roads for their activities.
When the community was smaller and recreational use was much more limited, those sorts of activities may have been frowned upon, but they were not as actively discouraged as they are today.
But the growth in the valley and the increasing recreational demands make it more difficult to ignore such activity. As a result, more and more gates have been installed along canal roads. And debate over their recreational use has occurred sporatically for decades.
Instead of finding ways to mitigate potential problems and alleviate concerns about public use of the trails — say, with test sections in a few key areas agreed upon by property owners and canal companies — the latest draft of the Grand Valley Trails Master Plan is all but guaranteed to harden the attitudes of those who live and make their livelihoods along the canals.