The Paths to Mesa Verde Project has been awarded a $400,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Montezuma County and local towns applied for the federal funding to begin planning for a 20-mile trail between Cortez and Mancos.
“It will be used to determine route alternatives and conduct environmental reviews,” said county planner James Dietrich. “It’s a first step.”
The Transportation Alternatives Program grant requires a $100,000 match. Montezuma County and Cortez each put up $40,000, and Mancos contributed $20,000.
Open houses on the trail concept showed significant community interest in a non-motorized trail linking Cortez and Mancos with Mesa Verde National Park.
Such a large project does not happen overnight, Dietrich warned, but an initial $500,000 gets the ball rolling.
“Just getting through the environmental clearances will eat up a lot of the grant,” he said.
Land between Cortez and Mancos is a mix of private, county, municipal, state, BLM and National Park property. A CDOT right-of-way along U.S. 160 is potentially available for the trail. Easements across private property may need to be negotiated depending on the trail alignment, which could be on the north or south side of the highway.
The initial path of least resistance for the trail would likely begin in Cortez, from near the new high school toward the fairgrounds, Dietrich said.
“We are trying to determine which route makes the best engineering sense,” he said.
CDOT also applied for a $900,000 grant through the American Reinvestment and Recover Act for the trail project, but the request was denied earlier this month.
The county will put the trail planning contract out to bid and will publish a request for proposals by the end of the year.
Officials estimated construction costs to be in the millions, but continued grass-roots enthusiasm and initial funding could make the dream come true one step at a time.
“Once its shovel-ready, more grant funding becomes available from federal and state sources,” said Montezuma County commissioner Larry Don Suckla.