Sen. Gardner meets with Steamboat business to make Continental Divide Trail safer
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A Steamboat Springs company met with Sen. Cory Gardner on Tuesday to discuss an initiative to address safety issues on a local section of one of the world’s longest trail systems.
The outdoor company Big Agnes has been a major supporter of rerouting a 15-mile section of the Continental Divide Trail, which stretches from Mexico to Canada.
In January, Big Agnes donated $30,000 to the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, earmarking the money to go toward moving the trail off of several highways and onto safer, multi-use paths.
The company’s owners joined members of the coalition to notify Gardner about their safety concerns and gain his support for relocating that section of the trail. Maintaining and improving the 3,100-mile trail system has always been a top priority for the outdoor company, according to marketing director Garett Mariano, who attended Tuesday’s meeting with Gardner.
“The CTD has been an inspiration for Big Agnes almost from day one,” Mariano said.
The company tests some of its products on the local section of the trail, and many employees use it for recreation. Last summer, Big Agnes employees completed a 14-week, relay-style hike of the Colorado portion of the Continental Divide Trail.
During that excursion, they encountered firsthand the hazards of traveling the 15-mile section that follows busy roads from Walden to Rabbit Ears Pass. Those include Colorado Highway 14 and U.S. Highway 40, which are frequented by 18-wheeler semitrucks among other large rigs.
“It is a really dangerous section of the trail,” Mariano said. “There is very little shoulder on Highway 14, if any.”
He added that no public camping is permitted along the roadsides.
“If a through hiker needs to stop, there is not a safe place for them to do that,” Mariano said.
During the company-wide excursion, safety concerns were so great that employees biked rather than hiked the roadside section.
“We wanted to get people on and off that section as fast as we could,” Mariano said.
Continental Divide Trail Coalition Executive Director Teresa Martinez has understood those safety concerns for years but garnering enough support to make improvements has been difficult.
Rerouting the trail would require purchasing land from private owners and the state or getting easements to allocate portions of those lands to public use, according to Martinez. Some newer trails in the area could also be used to avoid the roadways.
She hopes that with Gardner’s support, the coalition can acquire the funding and political backing to finally take action.
In September, Gardner was among a group of bipartisan senators calling for Congress to include full, permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the fiscal year 2020 funding agreement.
Martinez sees the federal conservation fund as one of the primary ways to finance local improvements to the Continental Divide Trail. She urged Gardner to support the coalition’s iniative during Tuesday’s meeting
“I think he was generally supportive,” she said.
Mariano believes the benefits of improving the safety of the trail near Rabbit Ears would extend beyond the hikers passing through. He called Steamboat a “gateway community” to the popular, transnational trail system that could receive more tourism if people feel safer traveling along it.
“We see that as win for everybody — for the town and for through hikers,” he said.
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