The newly constructed Paonia River Park Extension Trail is now open to the public, offering access to the Gunnison River near the Paonia K-8 school.
“We’re going to call it fully open,” said Ben Graves. “There’s still tasks that need to be done but honestly we don’t have a whole lot of money left so those things might wait until next year when we hopefully have some grant funds to finish them.”
The 0.7 miles of new trail built on Paonia K-8 school property and Town of Paonia property was a joint effort between The Nature Connection and the Western Slope Conservation Center. Western Colorado Conservation Corps crews built the trail with help from a Greater Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant.
“They (WCCC) did five weeks of youth corps and then we had a couple of volunteer days and we had our high school trail crew work a few days to finish up the trail. It was completed in the middle of September,” said Graves representing The Nature Connection and Delta County School District.
Graves said the short section that runs up to Paonia K-8 has yet to be completed but will be a “school use only” trail. Work on that portion of the trail will be conducted by volunteer(s).
“We did put in a culvert so the ditch is easily passable. That will also be graded at an ADA standard meaning no steeper than an 8% grade,” Graves said to make it accessible to everyone in the community.
The Town of Paonia pitched in on the work by grading both of the trail ramps from Grand Avenue down to the river bottom. Graves said Delta County has offered to construct a crosswalk at the Grand Avenue bridge for safety concerns.
“So, there will be an official crosswalk connecting this section of trail with the River Park trail. Everything is connected with crushed gravel,” said Graves, adding that the trail is a bit loose at this time.
“We will be doing some compaction, that is something that will be finished before the winter. We will be compacting regularly to try and make it an easier access surface, right now it’s a little sandy feeling,” said Graves.
The River Park parking lot will become the official trailhead for both the river bottom trail and the school portion across Grand Avenue.
“Hopefully in the next few months crosswalk signs will appear and by the spring the curbs will be cut and there will be a crosswalk for the community,” Graves said, “The county is going to do it at the same time they construct the Fifth Street crossing which is going to be right in front of Bread Works.”
Graves thanked the project’s funding partners including an anonymous donor on the behalf of the Western Slope Conservation Center who contributed trail materials. Labor was paid for by a GOCO grant which employed 18-25 year old crew members working with WCCC. Graves also thanked the many high school students who also worked on the project.
In the coming weeks, Graves will be busy applying for a grant from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) trail crew funding. The money will be used to employ a trail crew made up of high school students for the next two years.
The paid crews consisting of 10 high schoolers and two young adults would maintain trails at the Paonia River Park, CrossRoads Park in Hotchkiss and new bike trails at Confluence Park in Delta. Graves said having a paid job will help both the students and their families while gaining valuable experience.
“It’s a part of a way to keep these beginner friendly, family friendly trails accessible to the public and provide employment opportunities for high school students,” Graves said, adding that he’s currently fundraising for a new vehicle and utility trailer to help with the work.