Several proposed routes for the Paths to Mesa Verde trail were laid out for public viewing during a packed meeting at the Cortez Recreation Center on Wednesday.
Trail alternatives extend between Cortez and Mancos across public and private lands on the north and south sides of U.S. 160.
Planners — funded in part by a $400,000 federal transportation grant — have been studying the topography, private property and environmental issues of the proposed non-motorized trail, expected to be between 16 and 24 miles.
Throughout the two mile-wide trail corridor there are about 300 private property parcels where the various trail alternatives could potentially cross. Planners have sent letters to them and are following up to discuss whether they are open to trail easements. So far 30 have been contacted in person or by phone with 15 showing willingness to talk about potential easements.
“If they are not interested in the trail crossing their land, we label the property red and will work around it,” said Pete Loris, of Loris and Associations, an engineering consulting firm.
Green and yellow colored properties indicate the landowner is willing to talk about easements, but does not obligate them.
Easements dictate route As more property owners are contacted the path of least resistance will begin to emerge, said trail-project coordinator James Dietrich, and a single more specific trail location will begin to take shape.
“We’re still in the initial planning stages, but are making progress on potential routes,” he said. “A lot is still on the table.”
The next step will be negotiating easements with willing property owners. In general, private land easements would be held by the county, and include county liability insurance. Property owners would be paid for the easement, or they could donate them. The county would be responsible for easement maintenance in partnership with other towns and organizations. Easements could also include property tax breaks for the property owner. Or, the property owner could sell a trail corridor to the county.
Planners said where topography, sensitive resources, or private land prohibits a trail, it could run along county roads or the U.S. 160 corridor, but separated from the roadway.
The trail plan was initiated by Montezuma County and has shown strong support from Cortez, Mancos, county residents and local government. In 2016, it made the Colorado Governors list for top trails the state would like to see built.
An electronic survey at the Cortez meeting revealed 87 percent of the 100 audience members supported the proposed non-motorized trail, and 13 percent opposed.
The trail would be built in five-mile phases, but funding for trail construction still needs to be secured.
Equestrians weigh in As more trail details emerge, more issues are coming into focus, including access for equestrian use, privacy across private property, impacts on ranching, potential for trespass and vandalism, trail maintenance, emergency services, and how and where the trail could cross U.S. 160, if needed, to access Phil’s World, the rest area bathrooms, and Southwest Colorado Community College.
“I’ve heard a lot about the benefits of the trail for cycling and hiking, but not a lot on equestrian use,” said Sandy Simons of Mesa Verde Backcountry Horsemen. “Establishing good horse access points to the trail from the fairgrounds would bring in a lot of riders.”
Horse groups also attract grants for building trail infrastructure, including bridges, she said. Planners said horse routes along the trail would ideally be located off the main path where possible. Or they could be directed to more open riding areas such as BLM land near Summit Lake and the Chutes and Ladders area.
A Mancos-area property owner said that while she is not opposed to the trail, good signage, education and fencing is needed to deter trespass on her and her neighbors properties.
“One trail route goes through a very remote area on my land, so what about access for emergency vehicles if there is an accident?” she added.
The trial is designed to accommodate emergency vehicles, planners said. The ten-foot wide trail would likely be a mix of pavement sections and hard-packed gravel, and will comply with American for Disability Act.
Seeing that a proposed route goes through his pasture, a rancher pointed out it is directly in the path of his livestock’s access to a water source.
“This is information we are looking for so we can accommodate your needs,” Loris said. “Some solutions could be fencing or re-routing to a better location.”
Chuck Forth, of the Onward foundation, said he would help form a Paths to Mesa Verde friends group, an important component to organize volunteers and garner and invest donations for trail projects and maintenance.
Building on momentum by incorporating the needs of multiple users is also key to the project’s success, said Scott Darling, co-owner Kokopelli Bike and Board, in Cortez.
“We were here fifteen years ago trying for this trail, but it never went anywhere,” he said. “Accommodating the equestrian users along with bikers, hikers, cross-country skiers could be the tipping point needed to get additional funding and support needed to begin construction.”
For more information, and to find out if any trail route proposal cross your private property, contact James Dietrich at (970) 565-7402.