Montezuma County has been awarded a $5.8 million federal grant to construct the first 7.5 miles of the 17-mile Paths to Mesa Verde Trail connecting the national park with Mancos and Cortez.
The funding from the Colorado Federal Lands Access Program will complete the section from Mancos to Mesa Verde National Park. CFLAP is managed by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“We’re really pleased, the project has had great support from the community, the park, CDOT and both towns,” said James Dietrich, county natural resources planner. “Its purpose is to improve alternative access to federal public lands.”
Because of the federal construction timetable, installation is not slated to begin until 2026 and is contingent on federal budget appropriations. The grant requires a $1 million match, and more grants will be sought by Mancos and the county to help cover the amount.
The 10-foot-wide, nonmotorized trail will be along the south side of U.S. Highway 160 within the right of way, separated from motor vehicle traffic. The surface will be fine-crushed gravel, and is handicapped-accessible.
The Mancos trailhead would begin at either Boyle Park or Cottonwood Park and follow Grand Avenue to the Paths trail.
The trail to the national park will add to the recreation options of the area, promote healthy living and improve the tourist experience, said county Commissioner Larry Don Suckla.
“It offers an easy family ride for locals and tourists and also connects to more challenging trails and rides,” he said. “A lot of work went into this project.”
Added Mancos Town Manager Heather Alvarez, “We are thrilled about this news for trail construction. Our board has been committed with time and funding for the project, and there has been a positive response from our residents.”
The second construction phase of the project will connect Cortez with the national park. Its exact alignment is still under review. Planning, right-of-way efforts and design have been ongoing, but construction funds have not been secured.
Spurs along the way are envisioned to connect the trail to Phil’s World, Pueblo Community College, the fairgrounds and the Aqueduct and Chutes and Ladders trail systems.
The Paths to Mesa Verde trail will be maintained by the county, and there is discussion that sections could be adopted by community organizations to help with upkeep.
The idea for the trail has been around for decades.
Dedicated planning and funding began in earnest in 2013, with the county taking the lead in partnership with Cortez, Mancos, Colorado Department of Education and the state.
The majority of design funding was provided by federal and state grants, with match contributions divided among Montezuma County, Cortez and Mancos.
Several public meetings in Cortez and Mancos showed strong support for the proposal.
The county and Mancos plan to seek grant funding to help cover the $1 million match. A $193,000 Colorado the Beautiful grant was awarded to the county for the project earlier this year and will go toward the match.
The significant construction funding is major milestone and encouraging, Dietrich said.
“It gives the project a lot of momentum and puts us in a good position for additional federal funding to complete the Cortez side,” he said.