Trail of the Month: April 2002
Rio Grande Trail, Colorado
Aspen and skiing—the words are almost synonymous. But, with spring's arrival, now is the perfect time to point out that there is much more to the magic of this mountain oasis than skiing the slopes. Located in the Roaring Fork Valley of west central Colorado, the Rio Grande Trail packs a wealth of adventure and breathtaking vistas into its 7.5 miles from Aspen to Woody Creek, providing the cross-country skiers and hikers of the long winter season with a chance to get back on their mountain bikes or into their in-line skates.
By connecting with the local network of trails, the Rio Grande Trail helps to link the sidewalks of Aspen with the White River National Forest. Two miles outside of Aspen, at Slaughterhouse Bridge, the paved portion of the trail gives way to a quiet six-mile stretch flowing toward Woody Creek. By this summer, another ten miles of trail is due to open with the construction of a bridge over Highway 82 that will connect the trail from Woody Creek into Basalt. The Roaring Fork River runs through the lush mountain landscape, often skirting the trail. In summer whitewater sports and trout fishing enthusiasts head for the feisty river. The trail follows the river as it flows into a picturesque canyon; high above, the rushing Whitehorse Springs cascades off gray shale cliffs. Beyond the canyon, the trail rises gradually from the river and shoots across expansive meadows framed by the rugged Rocky Mountains.
The Rio Grande Trail is part of an ambitious long-term project that will maintain a continuous right-of-way for recreation, conservation and mass transit through the Roaring Fork Valley. At the forefront of this project is the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA), a government agency that comprises two counties and five towns along the Aspen Branch of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad corridor that has been preserved for trail use and future rail service through the railbanking provision of the National Trails System Act. In their quest to establish both a trail and a commuter rail line through the valley, RFTA purchased the linear property from Woody Creek to Glenwood Springs, a distance of 33.3 miles, for $8.5 million.
In the next five to seven years, RFTA foresees the completion of a 40-mile trail along the entire corridor from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. No timetable can be given on the commuter rail line that will someday share the corridor with the Rio Grande Trail, but in the interim, RFTA already provides bus service to the towns of Aspen, Snowmass, Basalt, El Jebel, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.