CITY OF OURAY: Project planned to expand Perimeter Trail

By Sheridan Block

Ouray's Perimeter Trail is a favorite hike for locals and tourists. The five miles of trail offer hikers scenic views of the city and its surrounding cliffs and mountains. However, the Perimeter Trail is still a work in progress, and this summer the Ouray Trail Group will begin its project to expand and improve the route.

For this summer project, the trail group will add 1,000 feet of new trail, connecting the existing Oak Creek trail in the south and the Twin Peaks trail in the north via bridge crossing Oak Creek. According to OTG member Bob Risch, this segment is one of several projects the group has planned for the Perimeter Trail in the coming years.
Cost for the expansion is estimated at $50,000, and the trail group has already surpassed the $40,000 mark in fundraising, said Risch. The estimate will include helicopter time, material for bridge construction, equipment to construct the trail and additional labor.
Funding has mostly come from contributors and a small portion of the trail group's own resources. However, due to the limited resources available to the group and its responsibility to maintain the entire trail system throughout the county, OTG's contributions were limited. Although no grants have been awarded to the project, the trail group will pursue more grants in the future to help fund the Perimeter Trail's upcoming projects. Additionally, the trail group has made requests to city council for financial assistance and a statement of support.
Over the last month, OTG members Risch and Kelvin Kent asked council for support and donations for the project, citing the positive impact Perimeter Trail improvements would have on tourism and the city. Council agreed that the Perimeter Trail is a popular attraction for visitors and approved a letter of support for the trail group's efforts.
As for a financial contribution, council denied the request to approve a $1,000 donation to the project during its meeting on Monday night.
Typically, a general request for money would come from the city's General Fund, which is underfunded for expenses this year. Realizing the importance of the trail group's efforts, council looked to the Tourism and Lodging and Occupancy Tax funds for potential funding. However, due to previously approved commitments by the council for other organizations and slightly lower LOT numbers for the year so far, staff deemed that there will not be enough funds to meet the request.
Despite not receiving money from the city, the trail group plans to return to council later this fall when summer LOT figures have been accounted for and the budget process begins, to request funding for future projects.
"This is a tremendous community asset with serious economic potential," said Risch. "I think it's appropriate for the city to contribute to the extent that it contributes to other attractions that drive the economy, like the Ice Park."
Even without funding from the council, the trail group has had no problems reaching over half its budgeted goal and will continue to pursue a construction start this month. Risch estimates the project will be completed by September. He noted that the trails will not be closed, but hikers will be encouraged to avoid the area during construction hours.
The actual scope of the work to be done includes construction of the bridge, rock removal and chiseling a new trail into a very rocky area. Because of the steepness of the area, construction will require technical trail building skills and experience, which is why the project is more expensive than others, said Risch.
The last technical section of the Perimeter Trail constructed was the segment from the Visitor's Center to Cascade Falls. The trail group contracted with the Forest Service to complete that section. According to Risch, the trail expansion project this year will be even more challenging due to the terrain.
OTG  is working with local engineers, including Chris Haaland in Ridgway, who has experience designing bridges in challenging environments, and Forest Service engineers for the project. Volunteers will also be needed to ensure it is done before snowfall.
"We can really use all the help we can get," said Risch.
He added that there will be plenty of opportunities in the next few years to help with trail work. Interested volunteers are encouraged to attend OTG meetings, held every second Tuesday of the month at 9:30 a.m. in the Community Center, for more information.
"It's a very impressive response we've received from the community. It's surpassed our hopes for what it might be," he added. "The community has convinced us that the trail and our group have a lot of support."