The Pitkin County Open and Trails Board on Thursday recommended spending $1.46 million to pave two miles of the Rio Grande Trail just upvalley of McLain Flats Road this summer. A funding request for the project was approved by the county commissioners on Tuesday, July 15.

The work, expected to begin by the end of July, will not close the popular trail that many visitors and locals use to ride between Aspen and Woody Creek. A soft-surface trail will be open throughout construction.

“The Rio will never be closed,” said Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of the open space and trails program and the trail project manager. “There will be some detours, but they will be clear and enable you to get to other sections of the Rio.”

The trail-paving project was recently put out to bid by open space officials and only one company, Frontier Paving Inc. of New Castle, submitted a bid.

“We are still negotiating with Frontier Paving, but if the board of county commissioners approves the supplemental budget request then we will enter a contract and get a firm starting date,” Tennenbaum said.

On Thursday, the open space board questioned Tennenbaum about the project receiving only a single bid.

“Contractors are extremely busy,” Tennenbaum said. “For us, it is back to 2006.”

He noted the project was listed on the Rocky Mountain E-Purchasing System website, which puts construction projects in front of a wide audience of potential contractors.

Frontier Paving is expected to team up with Aspen Earthmoving to do the project, which requires building a foundation for a 10-foot-wide hard-surface trail and building a 4- to 6-foot-wide soft-surface trail. Both companies have worked with the county’s open space department before on trail construction.

In some sections, the hard and soft trails will be right next to each other. In other sections, the soft-surface trail is away from the paved trail, but still within the 100-foot right-of-way of the Rio Grande Trail, which is a former rail corridor.

The new soft-surface trail is to be built first and trail traffic will be directed on to it during construction of the paved section.

All but four miles of the Rio Grande Trail, which runs between Aspen and Glenwood Springs, are already paved.

When heading toward Aspen, the unpaved section runs from McLain Flats Road, across the “sage flats,” past the “shale bluffs” and then along the river up to Stein Park, which is at the bottom of Cemetery Lane.

The county’s open space department recently completed a Roaring Fork Gorge Management Plan. It recommended paving the relatively flat section of trail between McLain Flats Road and the narrow shale bluffs area on the trail.

But beyond that, the county has left its options open and it’s not clear yet whether the two miles of trail below Stein Park will be paved or left as a well-maintained soft surface trail.

This summer’s work does not include a new trail connector from the main Rio Grande Trail down the steep hill to Wink Jaffee Park on the Roaring Fork River. The connector is expected to come next year, when the open space department plans to make improvements to both Jaffee and Stein parks.

The trail paving project should be finished by October.

Editor’s note:
Aspen Journalism collaborated on this story with the Aspen Daily News, which published a version of it on Monday, July 14, 2014.

Brent Gardner-Smith, the founder of Aspen Journalism, and who served as AJ’s executive director until August 2021 and as editor from 2011-2020, is the news director at Aspen Public Radio. He's also been...