The countywide Paths to Mesa Verde trail project took a step forward on Monday, June 20 as the Montezuma County Commission authorized negotiations between the county and consulting firm Loris and Associates.
The firm will handle initial design plans for the project, which seeks to connect a multiuse trail from Cortez to Mancos, passing by Mesa Verde National Park. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper named the project one of his 16 most important trail projects in the state.
Since taxpayers already have invested in the project, County Public Lands Coordinator James Dietrich said the goal is to have one section of the trail finished as soon as possible.
“It’s taken a while to get this far, but I think we have a world-class project here that we’re about to start,” Dietrich said.
Local officials will work on narrowing the scope of work with the firm, he said. Consultants then will work on identifying a viable route for the trail, working with government agencies and private landowners to find possible rights of way, he said.
Much of the land between Cortez and Mancos is owned by federal entities, but the trail might cross private land, Dietrich said.
After a route is identified, officials will work to put out construction documents and obtain estimates for the project, he said. Project officials aim to have one section of the trail constructed and usable in 2018.
“What we want to do is try to get part of the trail in action as soon as we can,” he said.
The three main sections of the trail are from Cortez to the Montezuma County fairgrounds, from the fairgrounds to the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center, and from the visitor center to Mancos, said Shane Hale, Cortez city manager. Officials are looking at the big picture for the project, which will be viewed as a countywide asset, he said.
“We want to build something that county residents can use right away,” Hale said.
Dietrich said Loris and Associates was selected out of four potential firms. Planning community trails is the firm’s specialty, and they have done work throughout Colorado and New Mexico, he said. The firm put together a strong team of subconsultants, including a local surveyor, environmental specialist and architect, Dietrich said.
The next steps will be to hold meetings for public input, Dietrich said. Though he said there’s a lot of community support for the trail, he hopes for more public participation going forward.
“I think this will really be something the public will get interested in,” Dietrich said. “There’s a lot of support and lots of ideas.”