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So you want to own a railroad: Rails and trails on the Aspen Branch in Colorado

The project centers around an abandoned Denver & Rio Grande Railroad corridor running 42-miles between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, Colorado.

Presented at the National Trails Symposium, November 16, 1998

Colorado Map

Tom Newland, Executive Director for the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority, introduced the project with a slide presentation. Purchase of the railroad corridor was first declared a high priority by the community in 1991. Eight local entities went through a six-year process of pursuing the public ownership of the corridor and were successful in doing so on June 30, 1997.

The 42-mile rail corridor, which is in various stages of use, links the five municipalities and three counties of the Roaring Fork Valley with a public recreation/transportation corridor for present and future generations. The negotiated price of $8.5 million was funded through an innovative mix of local, state and federal funding: the local entities contributed $3.5 million; the local entities applied for and received a $2 million Legacy Grant from the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund (GOCO); and the Colorado Department of Transportation contributed $3 million from ISTEA Enhancement Fund proceeds.

"The project illustrates the deliberate, collaborative process involved with the purchase of a formally private property for the good of the public use."

The project illustrates the deliberate, collaborative process involved with the purchase of a formally private property for the good of the public use. Partners in the project started the process by forming an intergovernmental agreement to purchase the property. One consensus was formed, the partners jointly negotiated with the owner, Southern Pacific Transportation Company, for the purchase price and other conditions of the purchase. After a contract was successfully negotiated, funding sources were solicited; and the conditions of those funding commitments were met. Once the property was purchased, funding to proceed with the operation, management and planning of the property was secured so that the desired uses could be moved towards implementation.

Partnerships: The details of the methods used to develop and solidify partners for the project will be reviewed. Like in all property purchases, the need for a willing buyer and seller is imperative. An intergovernmetal agreement was used as a process under which consensus for the "buyer" was developed. In the early stages of the process, a "champion" emerged that provided resources to keep the discussions happening and capital to procure services such as appraisals and consultants. Once the contract to purchase the property was signed, the partners were required to present a united front to possible funders when soliciting financial participation.

Funding: The purchase required the pursuit and negotiation of several local, state and federal funding sources. Some of these sources were secured early on and others towards the end of the process. Reasons why funding commitments were obtained the way they were and the actions required to get state and federal funding will be discussed.

Planning: Acquisition of the property took priority over the planning. In fact, much of the funding was given without a comprehensive master plan for the property in place. Although planning of the property is of primary importance, it was decided that securing the propery in public ownership had to occur before a planning process could begin. An examination of the advantages and disadvantages of this approach will be discussed.

Trails and Rails: It was decided early on that the property would be used for public transportation and recreation purposes. The compatibility of rails and trails on the same corridor was the main issue to overcome. The placement of operating rail and trail systems on the same property will be a challenge, but appears likely to be accomplished on a majority of the corridor.

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