Imagine what Rob Bleiberg calls a "rubber tomahawk emporium" selling kitschy tourist trinkets where South Camp meets Monument Road south of Grand Junction.
Such an enterprise isn't unheard of in that kind of location — near the entrance to a National Park Service property. If one existed there, it wouldn't mesh with what the Monument Road corridor has become — a haven for trails, recreation and open space.
We take for granted that the corridor is an important playground. We treat it as if it always existed or was somehow destined to become what it is.
"But the fact of the matter is that but for a concentrated and sustained effort by the community over time, Monument Road would be completely different," said Bleiberg, director of the Colorado West Land Trust. "It would be houses," he said (or maybe the odd emporium), "which are fine, but we think that land is of the greatest benefit to the community as a trails network and open space network."
The trust has been in the thick of efforts to acquire and conserve lands in the corridor and turn them into public amenities. Over the past eight years, the trust has raised money to secure $5.3 million in land acquisitions along Monument Road. Those acquisitions were guided by a public visioning process in which stakeholders, ranging from area homeowners to trail users, indicated they wanted to protect views, trail access and open spaces.
Until last week, the trust's primary objective in the corridor was augmenting the user experience at the Bureau of Land Management's Tabeguache trail head, home to the renowned Lunch Loops trails. The trust purchased the 130-acre Three Sisters property and two adjacent parcels and deeded them to the city for public open space, allowing for an expansion of the Lunch Loops network of trails.
It acquired property and rights of way for a paved trail that will connect the Lunch Loops to the Colorado Riverfront Trail and downtown. It also raised money for improvements around the parking area of the Lunch Loops, which is one of the most popular mountain biking destinations in western Colorado.
The Lunch Loops gets an estimated 120,000 user days a year. A Colorado Mesa University study estimated the loops contribute more than $15 million to the local economy.
"It's become part of the community's fabric," Bleiberg said. "It's important for our community's residents, our quality of life and our physical and mental health. It's also critical as an economic driver, bringing in tourists and introducing mountain bikers to the valley who have since relocated here. We're very excited about how all this trail connectivity complements and adds value to the economic development efforts at Las Colonias."
Last week, the trust took a major step in expanding its trail connectivity initiative by announcing the acquisition of 16 acres at the northwest corner of Monument and South Camp roads. The property is envisioned as an end point for a new section of paved trail that will extend from the Lunch Loops to the existing sidewalk at South Camp.
It brings trail users that much closer to the Monument entrance or to the Redlands Loop without having to fight traffic on Monument Road. The trust hasn't been alone in shaping the vision for the Monument Road corridor. It's had plenty of help from a number of stakeholders, including the city of Grand Junction and Mesa County. But its staff is proud — and deservedly so — for the role they've played in nurturing the vision and protecting it to near completion.