Big dreams, money tied to Cortez-Mancos trail

Journal/Sam Green  Mary Dishman and Josh Coffin prepare to ride at Phil's World Friday afternoon. If you can't go ski, you might as well come out here and ride your bike, Coffin said. Enlargephoto

Journal/Sam Green Mary Dishman and Josh Coffin prepare to ride at Phil's World Friday afternoon. "If you can't go ski, you might as well come out here and ride your bike," Coffin said.

Imagining a trail where there isn't one is easy, but actually planning for and installing one is much tougher, and often requires plenty of money.

One long-standing dream is to connect Cortez, Phil's World, Mesa Verde National Park, and Mancos with a non-motorized pathway separated from Highway 160.

Genuine momentum is building for the project, but it is in the preliminary stages. An interactive public survey was held Tuesday at the Cortez Recreation Center to determine how the community envisioned the 16-to-20 mile trail between the two towns.

Participants were asked to place stickers on large wall graphs showing how the trail should be constructed, where it should be located, and what they would use it for. Comments could be made on large sheets of paper on the walls, and citizens could draw on maps where they thought the trail should go.

"It is a great turnout," said CDOT representative Matt Murano. "Mancos, Cortez, the county, public land agencies are all on board."

Funding for just the planning portion of the large trail project is expected to be $1.2 million, the lion's share of which would be covered by a $900,000 federal grant if approved.

CDOT is applying for the funding through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER), part of a nationwide economic stimulus project.

Matches have been secured from area towns to cover the rest of the estimated planning costs if the grant is awarded. Cortez and Montezuma County have promised $40,000 each, Mancos said it will chip in $20,000 and CDOT says it will contribute $200,000.

The award decision for the TIGER grant is not expected until Fall. The funding would be used to determine trail alignment, create construction plans, pay for environmental and archaeology studies, and for purchase of right-of-way easements if necessary.

Officials estimate construction costs at $10 million, funds that could also become available through federal funding and grants once planning, community buy-in, and construction plans are set.

"Once it is shovel ready, more grant funding becomes available from federal and state sources," said Montezuma County commissioner Larry Don Suckla.

The trail would be built in stages, based on funding. The plan is to have the west end begin at the new Cortez high school, but from there where the trail would be located has not been determined. Options include on the north or south side of the highway. The majority of land between Cortez and Mancos is BLM and county land, with pockets of private, state, and national park land.

The idea is to connect attractions for residents and tourists to conveniently access, but also to provide commuting options that don't involve driving.

"I like the north side idea for a portion of the trial," Suckla said. "It would provide access to Phil's World, and the trail would be useful for students at Southwest Colorado Community College. The highway rest area there could be for trail parking."

Whether the trail would be a soft surface or paved is also a question.

"Paving is ideal, because it is less long-term maintenance. But it has more up-front costs," said Todd Johnson, a BLM transportation scholar working on the project. "The idea is to come up with four or five trail designs and then go for feedback from the public."

A review of survey results at the end of the event showed unanimous support for keeping the trail a good distance from the Highway 160, rather than closely paralleling it.

"It's good people see that. If we are going to do it and spend the money, let's keep it away from the highway," said Hal Shepherd, a long-time advocate of the trail and former Cortez city manager.

Other results showed people would mostly use it for recreation, including hiking, biking, running, dog walking, and horse riding. The trail would give tourists and locals an option to access Phil's World mountain bike park, the Montezuma County Fairgrounds, or the Mesa Verde visitors center from either Mancos or Cortez.

"I'd like to see multiple access points, and parking suitable for horse trailers," said Tif Rodriquez, of Mancos. "I also feel this community would provide a lot of volunteer time for trail building and maintenance."

"The trail is a nice fit for this area," added Phil Johnson.

The future of the county depends on outdoor recreation the trail would help bring, said Jim Skvorc, of Cortez.

"It brings in tourist dollars and enhances our reputation as a low-impact recreation area," he said, adding that an old landscaping adage works for trails as well.

"The best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago. The second best time is today, same goes for building this trail."

A suggested name for the path is the MACO Trail, short for Mancos-Cortez.

Journal/Sam Green  Riders pass through the tunnel under U. S. Highway 160 heading into Phil's World from the Montezuma County Fairgrounds during the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde. Enlargephoto

Journal/Sam Green Riders pass through the tunnel under U. S. Highway 160 heading into Phil's World from the Montezuma County Fairgrounds during the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde.