A trail to somewhere
Grassroots effort launched to build Durango-to-Hermosa trail

A trail to somewhere

The Animas Valley, north of Durango, where a proposed multi-use trail would connect Durango and Hermosa./ Photo courtesy Visit Durango

Jonathan Romeo - 02/15/2024

A new grassroots community effort has begun to champion a new trail that would connect Durango to Hermosa. In addition to offering more recreational opportunities, the trail is seen as a way to increase cyclist safety and take cars off the busy stretch of highway.

“We’d like to have it done today, but if we don’t start today, it’ll never get done,” Peggy Montano, one of the project’s organizers who lives in Hermosa, said. 

Indeed, creating an entirely new trail that would connect Durango to Hermosa, about 10 miles to the north, may seem like a tall order. But organizers are playing the long game, going through the proper government channels and garnering community support.

Because, at the end of the day, Montano said, who wouldn’t love a new 10-mile trail that could connect to other areas and trails in the county, and at the same time, offer an option for people who want to commute to work through the beautiful Animas Valley?

“It seems obvious,” she said. 

The project, though, is still in its early stages. This past February, organizers got the idea placed on the Colorado Department of Transportation regional planning group’s 2045 long-range priority list, which is a first step in the right direction, Montano said.

Julie Constan, CDOT’s Regional Transportation Director for southwest and south-central Colorado, said don’t expect to hold a ground-breaking ceremony anytime soon. However, she did say the project has all the attributes CDOT looks for in a project.

“The idea is great,” she said. “And anything we can do to help take cars off the road, we’re in favor of.”

Becoming Aspen, in a good way

In summer 2022, longtime La Plata County resident Bob Wolff, one of the more involved community members over the years, took a trip to Aspen to visit his daughter. Over five days, his family rode e-bikes all over town, barely getting in the car.

“I was blown away with what Aspen has done with its trails system,” he said.

Wolff started to wonder why there wasn’t that connectivity between Durango and Hermosa. So, he decided to do something about it, taking the idea to CDOT’s Transportation Regional Planning (TRP) group, made of five Southwest counties.

“It was a glaring thing to me; why don’t we have this?” Wolff said.

It’s far too early to talk about the actual alignment; however, Wolff said the general idea is for the path to follow CDOT’s right-of-way on the west side of Highway 550, from the start of County Road 203 to where it ends just north of Hermosa Grill.

At the meeting, the TRP voted unanimously to place the project on the long-range planning list, which puts it in a prime spot for future consideration, Constan said. Many projects, like the Grandview interchange and impending improvements to Highway 160 toward Bayfield, started that way.

“It allows us to keep it in the back of our minds for our long-range goals,” she said. “And if any CDOT funding does become available, a project needs to be on that plan to receive funding.”

Constan said that this summer, the TRP will re-evaluate its priority list, providing a chance to elevate the Durango to Hermosa connection in importance. Even with high community support, the project is still subject to many factors, like environmental assessments and ROW studies.

“There are a lot of things to look at before we can say it works,” she said. “But we at least need a starting point.”

Taking the lead

Durango has a strong history of supporting trail connectivity, evidenced by the Animas River Trail through town and the ongoing effort to connect it to Three Springs. La Plata County even has a long-range plan from 2000 that features a Durango to Hermosa connection.

Recently, both the City of Durango and La Plata County have expressed support for the project. However, neither entity has taken the initiative to spearhead it, prompting a community-driven effort. Despite this, the two jurisdictions have allocated $10,000 to help seed the project.

“It would be beneficial for the whole region to have commuter systems in place,” City Councilor Olivier Bosmans said at a recent joint city-county meeting. “And that money is a start to encourage people to step up.”

Some entity, however, will eventually need to claim ownership of the trail, which looms as a potential sticking point.

“Given the complexities of project ownership, development and long-term maintenance, the options are realistically limited to CDOT, the City and the County,” Ted Holteen, spokesman for the county, said.

While the proposed route is on CDOT right-of-way, CDOT, as an agency, doesn’t develop or maintain trails. And while the trail would be located almost entirely in the county, La Plata County doesn’t have a parks and recreation department.

Tom Sluis, spokesman for the City of Durango, said the city is always open to participating in projects that will ultimately benefit the public, but there are some major details to work out.

“Before any relationship is established, the City always has to look at what exactly is being proposed, the financial cost, what city residents think about the proposal and much more before any decision could be made,” he said.

The county’s Holteen proposed a possible alternative solution.

“A special transportation or recreation district is a model used elsewhere in Colorado that could be a possibility in the future,” he said.

Why not us?

Despite all the red tape, other communities in Colorado have gotten big projects like this done – such as the 42-mile Rio Grande Trail from Aspen to Glenwood ­or the 18-mile Clear Creek Trail that connects Golden to Denver.

So why not Durango to Hermosa, especially given the increased traffic on the roads and the ever-growing popularity of e-bikes?

“It is a good question, and we have a huge cycling community here,” Constan said. “And it was those types of grassroot efforts in other communities that made it happen.”

For now, Montano and Wolff said efforts will focus on building community support (visit www.hermosatodurango biketrail.com to learn more). At the same time, the group will continue to fundraise and look for grant opportunities, like with Great Outdoors Colorado.

“We’re proud to support trail planning and development through competitive grant programs,” Mike Wight, GOCO’s Southwest program officer, said. Since 1992, GOCO has partnered on multiple projects, including trail planning, trail construction and land acquisition, contributing more than $2.3 million toward the Animas River Trail, among other projects in Horse Gulch, Vallecito and Hermosa, he said.

Wolff, who is no stranger to the time it takes to get big projects done in Southwest Colorado, said the trail could be a legacy accomplishment enjoyed by generations to come.

“Fifty years ago, Hermosa was way out in the sticks; it’s not now,” Wolff said. “We have more trails surrounding our town than anyone, but we don’t have any trails that go anywhere. We need trails that go someplace.”?