Fruita on path for new rec trails

The city of Fruita may have re-opened the decades-long debate over the proximity of recreational hiking and biking trails to irrigation canals in this valley through a parks master plan the City Council approved last week.

Good for them. It’s a debate worth re-engaging. And Fruita is attacking it in a manner that should be less threatening to those who own property along irrigation canals and the organizations that manage those canals.

To begin with, Fruita’s plan will apply only to new developments along irrigation canals. There is no plan to try to force those who already own property bordering canals to open their lands to recreational trails, unless they seek to develop that land. If they do, they would be asked to dedicate 20 feet of right of way adjacent to the canal easement.

Additionally, unlike many earlier proposals, Fruita is not suggesting that the canal companies open their access roads for use as recreational trails. The city’s plan is to create a separate recreational trail on lands set aside from property to be developed, not on the canal roads.

Even so, at least one represenative of a canal organization — the president of the Grand Valley Irrigation Co. — expressed concern about having recreational trails so close to canals.

Since the late 1980s, proponents of recreational trails in the Grand Valley have explored the idea of utilizing canal roads for hiking and biking. They have pointed to similar efforts in other communities where recreation has coexisted successfully with canal management.

But those efforts have been stymied continually by the opposition of managers and members of canal organizations. They point to potential liability issues with people hiking and biking near canals, and cite the possibility of damage to private property adjacent to the canals.

Those aren’t trivial concerns. They need to be taken seriously and any proposals for recreation along canals need to find ways to ameliorate those concerns.

Fruita’s plan appears to be a good first step toward that end. It will not create recreational trails on canal property, and it will only establish small sections of trail at a time. But those small sections could be a proving ground to show that recreation near canals need not be a disaster.

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