Engineering firm Loris and Associates has presented its preliminary analysis of the proposed Paths to Mesa Verde trail to the Montezuma County commissioners and stakeholders.
The 20-mile nonmotorized trail would connect Cortez and Mancos with Mesa Verde National Park.
The ideal location and design of the trail is currently being studied via maps and preliminary surveying on the ground, said Pete Loris, president of the firm. Preferred trail alignments are expected to be presented in February.
“We’re looking at possibilities within a 4-mile wide band along Highway 160 between Cortez and Mancos,” Loris told commissioners last week.
The county said that besides the main trail, spurs to the county fairgrounds, Phil’s World trail system, Southwest Colorado Community College, a U.S. Highway 160 rest stop, and the national park are also a priority.
“I’d like to see the trail go through the countryside for a better experience, rather than all along the highway,” said commissioner Keenan Ertel, echoing a sentiment found in surveys conducted last year.
Proposed main trailheads were at Montezuma-Cortez High School, Mesa Verde National Park and Cottonwood Park in Mancos.
Environmental reviewsA lot of work lies ahead for the ambitious plan, officials said, and phased construction would not start before 2018.
The area proposed for trail is a mix of state, federal and private land, including private lands with conservation easements.
Once a route is agreed upon, the real work begins, including detailed surveys, construction plans, fundraising and negotiating easements across private land, federal land, and Colorado Department of Transportation rights of way.
“It is tied to federal lands and federal dollars, so is subject to the National Environmental Policy Act,” Clementson said. “The area has high density of cultural resources, so we want to work with the county on the alignment to make sure the trail avoids those, and riparian and wetland areas.”
Mesa Verde National Park Superintendent Cliff Spencer added that the new trail is included in a visitor distribution plan being formulated at Mesa Verde that includes new trails and shuttle services to trailheads.
A $400,000 planing grant, awarded for the project in 2014 from federal transportation funds, is being administered through CDOT.
AdministrationCDOT and the county are taking the lead on the trail, and it would be maintained by the county, likely in partnership with other stakeholders. Because it is a designated state transportation trail connecting communities, it is required to be plowed in winter for year-round access.
The trail project must meet CDOT engineering rules and federal easement specifications. And because federal funding is involved, it must be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The trail would be 10 feet wide, and depending on the width of the easement, room could be provided for a separate equestrian trail. To accommodate horse use, planners said they will try and identify areas where the trail could lead horses users to public lands with open meadows for riding.
CDOT representatives said a paved path is the best option for longevity and for ADA compliance, but it’s possible a soft path could meet requirements in certain situations.
“The goal is to be ADA-compliant, and we may also need rest areas,” said CDOT engineer Robert Shanks.
Engineers recommended a concrete trail because it is long-lasting – 50-60 years versus 10-20 years for asphalt.