• Grant awarded Friday night in Fruita
• Grant was collaboration between city, MRD and Colorado Outdoors
• Construction won’t begin until 2019, city engineer says
Back in 1994, Judy Ann Files and her husband, Ralph, joined a Montrose city parks and trails committee hoping to bring positive changes to the community.
Oh and did they. The Files, along with other committee members, spearheaded the creation of the concrete trails in Riverbottom and Cerise parks. But Files wasn’t completely satisfied even after those came to fruition in the ‘90s.
“It’s always been in the back of my mind to have concrete trail that goes the length of the river,” Files said.
Fast forward to today, more than two decades later, Files is less than a half a year away from fulfilling her second and final tenure as the city’s mayor. And when her time in that role comes to an end, she’ll be able to say her 20-plus-year old vision is even closer to reality (with a few exclamation points following the word).
On Friday evening in Fruita, Great Outdoors Colorado announced the City of Montrose and Montrose Recreation District’s $2 million grant application was approved, the biggest GOCO grant ever awarded to Montrose. Known as the “Connecting the People to their Parks and Recreation” project, funding will support the construction of a total of 2.25 miles of new trails, with underpasses, on both ends of town to connect more of the public with parks and recreational opportunities.
Essentially, people will be able to bike or walk from near the Justice Center on the north end of town to the Community Recreation Center on the south side, without the fear of crossing congested South Townsend Avenue or Main Street.
The proposed southern alignment would add 0.75 miles of trails from the roundabout at Ogden Road by the rec center directly to the river trail on the west side of town, via an underpass that uses an existing bridge at South Townsend Avenue/U.S. 550, near City Market South and Four Seasons Mall.
The 1.5-mile northern section would begin where the West Main trailhead currently ends, using the bridge there for an underpass, and connect into the Colorado Outdoors Project along North Grand Avenue.
“This is a game changer,” MRD Executive Director Ken Sherbenou said. “GOCO saw the virtue of it and how it really was moving us forward dramatically, and they wanted to invest. This will bring two brand new underpasses using existing bridges on the two busiest roads we have in our community, so it’s a big deal.”
City Engineer Scott Murphy said he exhausted significant time over the course of three weeks working on tentative trail design concepts for the GOCO application, time he called “well spent.”
“This is a big reward for us,” Murphy said. “It’s very exciting. We have these world-class park assets and not a great means to them, especially children. So this will be a great benefit to our community.”
Virgil Turner, city director of innovation and citizen engagement, is handling property purchases. Negotiations are ongoing and the exact route will depend on the outcome of several negotiations, he and Sherbenou noted. Therefore, the precise trail alignment is not currently finalized.
The collaboration among local entities was key to the application’s success, no doubt. GOCO Executive Director Chris Castilian and Local Government Program Manager Jake Houston saw that spirit firsthand when numerous community leaders hosted them on a August tour of Montrose via bikes and rafts.
As part of it, everyone piled into two rafts at Montrose Water Sports Park and headed north, stopping at the trailhead near Main Street. They then continued up to Taviwach Park to show off the planned Colorado Outdoors Project and the park itself, which has been redeveloped into a paddle board sports area.
The tour continued with a viewing of Montrose from Sunset Mesa and then a bike ride from Baldridge Park, eventually across South Townsend Avenue (via traffic light) to the CRC.
“Grant opportunities like this really demand that local collaboration,” Sherbenou said.
Barbara Bynum, who is the president of the MRD Board of Directors and sits on the Montrose City Council, is in a unique position of serving both organizations.
“I am proud of the collaboration between the city and MRD. I think there is tremendous potential in Western Colorado for different entities and communities to work together,” Bynum told the Montrose Daily Press via email, noting her excitement. “We often have similar goals and objectives, and when we can work together, I think it benefits all of us.”
City Manager Bill Bell shared a similar perspective.
“We are very excited,” Bell said, crediting Sherbenou, as well as Turner, Murphy, Files, Bynum and former city employee Erica Weeks for their efforts.
“A lot of work went into trying to sell the story of Montrose and trying to show the importance of connecting our community. This trail corridor will allow our residents from north of Main Street to connect to the south of Main Street. It’s going to do wonders for our people. It’s going to be a very important piece for our community.”
Originally, city and MRD staff approached the grant application as a way to simply connect the entire community. But it was enhanced with the inclusion of the Colorado Outdoors Project.
The city previously declared 158 acres along the Uncompahgre River across from the Justice Center (from North Ninth Street to Launa Drive) as blighted, in accordance with the statutory requirements of the Urban Renewal Act. The land is to be developed by Mayfly Outdoors as an outdoor business park, with residential components, called the Colorado Outdoors Project
With nine other entities, including Montrose County and special taxing districts whose boundaries cover the 158 acres, the city earlier this year formed an urban renewal authority (URA), to finance public infrastructure and improvements via a tax increment finance district (TIF).
“The tour gave us the opportunity to highlight another tremendous strength and that was the economic development component,” Sherbenou said. “And how we have this wonderful (Montrose Urban Renewal Authority) project that is in a lot of ways central to the future of Montrose.”
Mayfly Outdoors President David Dragoo was one of the many individuals who participated in the GOCO tour. He emphasized his desire to be involved in the tour and the grant was about showing GOCO the bigger picture when it comes to the Colorado Outdoors Project, trail and community.
“It’s more than just our project, and we’ve always known that,” Dragoo told the Montrose Press. “This is about enhancing the community.”
Dragoo, who also wrote a personal letter to GOCO officials that was included with the grant application, said his company is supporting those words with actions. Eventually, he said, Mayfly will give back to the city upwards of 35 acres it purchased along the river corridor that will be used for the trail and to provide more open space.
“We’re doing that to enhance the quality of the river corridor in our city and for the folks who live here; we want them to enjoy it more,” Dragoo said. “The goal is to make it a safe, quality and publicly accessible environment people are proud of.”
What lies ahead
Although the grant is officially approved, Montrose is still at least two years out from being able to utilize the planned connecting trail. The design process will extend through all of 2018, Murphy noted, with it including a public procurement process, a selection of a designer and performing detail design and permitting. Realistically, he said, construction would commence somewhere around April 2019 and last at least through the summer. When complete, the two underpasses will prohibit vehicles and strictly be used for walking and bikes.
The trail will further support the Montrose City Council’s continued efforts in promoting healthy living, according to Turner. Back in 2015, the council passed a resolution to join LiveWell Colorado’s Healthy Eating, Active Living Cities and Towns commitment that aims to prevent obesity.
“This initiative fits hand and glove with our efforts to make Montrose a healthy community, and work with the community to create an environment where healthy living is part of the Montrose lifestyle,” Turner said.
It also may open the door to future outdoor enhancements to the area. Turner said he has visited communities that have trails that loop around the entire city, calling it a possibility for Montrose down the road.
“We’ve got our eyes looking forward,” he said.
For her part, Files said the grant’s approval was icing on the cake in terms of the vision she had for Montrose 23 years ago. She said she takes a lot of pride in the development of the river, citing it as a legacy project.
“To me, it’s healthy lifestyles. I go down on that river trail and I see people of all different ages not only walking and enjoying the river, but also doing something that is healthy,” Files said. “And that’s what we’re all about. We like living here because of the opportunities. I really think the Montrose community really wants to go out and enjoy them. We don’t want to be couch potatoes.”
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor for the Montrose Daily Press and an award-winning journalist. He’s a University of Kansas graduate with years of experience in the news business, as well as a father of two and a husband. Follow him on Twitter @MattLindberg.