The sixth anniversary of the historic Boulder County flood of 2013 might arrive before the reopening of a popular trail that has remained off limits since the disaster.
The Anne U. White Trail just northwest of downtown Boulder had once been eyed for a potential fall 2018 reopening. Then it was to be this summer. And now, the target is a potential reopening this fall for the last county-managed trail still shut down by the record-breaking deluge which began in the second full week of September 2013.
A 1.6-mile trail located off of Wagonwheel Gap Road and Pinto Drive, popular with locals and visitors alike for its ample shade and the fact that it does not pose a challenging grade for hikers of most abilities, the Anne U. White Trail was ravaged by the 2013 flood. However, restoration, reseeding and other improvements of the trail were completed some time ago, with funding help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
It’s the access that remains the issue.
According to the Parks and Open Space website page devoted to the trail saga, as its popularity has increased over the years, “so has the need for additional parking,” with a former five-car parking area having long ago proved insufficient on most days.
During busy times, the website states, “overflow parking was occurring on the shoulder of the Wagonwheel Gap Road. Congestion on the road created safety concerns for vehicles, pedestrians and emergency responders, and illegal parking negatively impacted neighbors.”
That problem is being addressed through plans for a 25-car parking lot to be built this summer, utilizing additional space created through county post-flood buyouts of two devastated private homes on Pinto Drive. That cost about $1.45 million for their acquisition, plus $145,381 more for their demolitions.
Attention now has turned to getting the lot built.
“Design is just about complete,” said Parks and Open Space planner Justin Atherton-Wood. “We’ve been working through different iterations of the design that would work, since it’s in the floodplain — clearly. That’s been a pretty significant constraint, but I think we’re on the other side of that.”
In order to meet the new autumn 2019 target for reopening Anne U. White, the county strived to avoid going through the Conditional Letter of Map Revision process with FEMA, which could have added another year to the timeline.
“We’ve been successful at coming up with a design that avoids having to do that,” Atherton-Wood said, noting that the cost of completing the design process was boosted by money from Great Outdoors Colorado. “So, we’re at the point where we’re working on all the other various permits we need to get to construct the project.”
It is expected the parking lot project will go out for bid in June, and construction will take a couple of months, “so I think autumn is fair to say” for reopening to the public, Atherton-Wood said.
He acknowledged there will be days that even 25 parking spaces at Anne U. White will not be enough, and that overflow parking will have to be accommodated on nearby roads.
“What we’re going to do is work with (county) Transportation to identify areas that are suitable for parking on the shoulder of Wagonwheel Gap Road and there will be an intensive period of planning to look at that,” Atherton-Wood said, noting a little overflow also could go on Pinto Drive. “There will be signage, and we’ll have that well demarcated, and have some pretty significant ranger presence, particularly when the trailhead opens again. It’s a complicated location.”
“The ball is in Parks and Open Space’s court on this one, right now,” county Transportation spokesman Andrew Barth said in an email Thursday. “We’ll likely work with them after their work is done, to talk more about parking on Pinto and Wagonwheel.”
It’s been a long and winding path toward putting Anne U. White back on hikers’ recreation itineraries. But Atherton-Wood is anxious to see the process reach a conclusion.
“I’m excited to use it again,” he said. “It’s a place I like to go, too.”