Jefferson County's first ever trails plan will map out future of Open Space trails

Fedback on plans through end of month

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 7/20/20

A shared use path along Wadsworth Boulevard from I-70 to West 32nd Street in Wheat Ridge. An extension of the Dutch Creek trail in Littleton from Kipling Parkway to C-470, where it could link up with …

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Jefferson County's first ever trails plan will map out future of Open Space trails

Fedback on plans through end of month

Posted

A shared use path along Wadsworth Boulevard from I-70 to West 32nd Street in Wheat Ridge. An extension of the Dutch Creek trail in Littleton from Kipling Parkway to C-470, where it could link up with the C-470 bikeway. A new three-mile loop in the Westminster Hills Open Space.

Those are just three of the ideas for new trails and trail connections outlined in the draft of Jeffco's first ever trails plan, a new document that will eventually guide the future of trails development across Jefferson County by identifying opportunities to expand existing trail networks in the county and ways to realize them.

Sophie Katz, the trails program coordinator for Jeffco Open Space, said the trails plan process began three years ago when JCOS saw different Jeffco communities creating their own trails plans.

MORE: Current Jeffco Open Space parks and trails

“We realized if we just have different jurisdictions tunnel visioning their own trail plans without taking a larger step back and looking at the greater regional picture we might not end up with the greatest trail connections,” Katz said. “At JCOS we have the bandwidth and technical knowledge to kind of lead the charge on this. So we are trying to create a healthier, more connected community by trails.”

Katz said the creation of the plan was a collaborative effort involving 36 cities, agencies and park and open space districts as well as non-profit groups like the Colorado Mountain Bike Association (COMBA) and the Jefferson County Horse Council.

Then there was the public input effort, which saw JCOS collect 861 comments online and commission six stakeholder groups. The agency also received 1,174 responses to a survey.

From that input JCOS identified three priorities for the future development: develop more trails and paths to area destinations; create more opportunities to enjoy the outdoors close to home; and increase opportunities to see wildlife.

Those priorities, in turn, gave rise to three goals that are now the centerpiece of the plan and against which JCOS says it and other communities will evaluate and prioritize future trail projects. Those goals are:

1. Improve connections across the entire region by connecting communities to each other, nearby parks and trails and businesses

2. Establish a 10-minute standard of access with residents of the more urbanized “plains” portions of the county within a 10-minute walk of a trail while residents of the mountain areas are within a 10-minute drive

3. Create safer experiences for everyone by creating a trail system that accommodates the needs of people of all ages and abilities

The plan also sets future goals for the county: to expand the 956 miles of trails that currently exist in the county to 1,100 miles by 2030 and 1,200 miles by 2050. To provide a starting place for that process, the trails committee worked with JCOS to choose 184 potential trail projects.

Katz said those goals are not prioritized within the plan because the county wanted each community to choose which projects to pursue.

Of course, all of the projects will also need funding before they can proceed — although Katz said JCOS is also planning to help with that.

“We are launching our trails partnership project next year which will allow municipalities and recreation districts to apply for funding to see projects through,” she said. “We will fund 25% of local projects and 50% of regional projects.”

The county is currently seeking feedback on the draft plan at jeffcotrailsplan.com. The plan currently consists of two parts: the actual draft which outlines its basic concepts and a more in-depth document that explains how it was produced and how its goals will be implemented.

Gary Moore, the executive director of COMBA who was involved in creating the draft plan, said he felt the process was an effective one that helped identify many gaps in trail access and "low hanging fruit" for how they could be improved.

The importance of 10-minute access to trails and recreation spaces is something that Moore said has also been underscored by the recent pandemic.

"Now we are all trying to recreate locally and trying to get out there go places while staying inour county and our community," he said. "So I think it's shpwing why it's important to have that safe and close access to outdoor recreation whether its on a concrete trail or natural surface."

Katz said the county will be taking feedback on the plan through July 31—and that feedback will then be taken into account before the final plan is presented to the county commissioners in September. She said JCOS has already realized from the feedback it has received that it needs to do a better job of communicating that the plan involves multiple agencies, not just JCOS.

Then there is the issue of equity, which is not addressed directly in the current plan even as it is central to it.

“We want to emphasize the point that this is a really big and wonderful opportunity to be able to create a little more equity,” said Katz. “There really isn't any mention or call out of equity in the plan itself, which we will add, but this plan really provides the opportunity to not only people that have the resources or live at the base of one of our parks get to enjoy outdoor recreation. It should be available to everybody.”

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