Rico Trustees approve RGS River Trail cooperative agreement with RTA, easement with landowner, & planning grant application

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Site of Rio Grande Southern Railroad bridge south of Rico. A popular recreational trail on the east side of the Dolores River ends here. The proposed RGS River Trail development plan includes construction of a pedestrian bridge at this location to extend the trail to the Dolores/Montezuma County line. Ore Cart photo - September 21, 2020.

The Town of Rico Board of Trustees approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Rico Trails Alliance (RTA) to develop and maintain a non-motorized recreation trail along the Dolores River south of Rico at the monthly Trustees video-conference meeting, September 15, 2020.

Section 1 of the MOU describes the document’s purpose.


The purpose of this MOU is to formalize a cooperative relationship between the Town and RTA for development and management of a non-motorized trail extending from within the Town’s River Corridor south to the boundary of Dolores County and Montezuma County (“RGS River Trail”) . . .

Section 2 of the RTA - Town of Rico MOU lists Rico Master Plan goals, objectives and policies related to open space, recreation and trails. Some Master Plan goals and objectives are repetitive in the original document and the MOU. The following is a condensed version of the list.

  • Promote the viability of public community spaces, including but not limited to … the River Corridor.
  • Preserve areas along the Dolores River for open space and recreational uses such as hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, nature studies, fishing, and individual escape and introspection.
  • Establish a plan for regional trails that promotes convenient access of existing and future neighborhoods to surrounding natural areas and promotes separation of passive recreation from motorized activities.
  • Acquire property and/or easements from private property owners as identified to establish a trail system.
  • Coordinate trail planning and development with the US Forest Service.- - - - -

Section 3 describes RTA’s mission to develop and promote local trails.


RTA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation formed in 2017 by a group of local outdoor recreationalists pursuant to the Colorado Revised Nonprofit Corporation Act. Its mission is “to promote local and regional trail systems in and around Rico, Colorado, with a focus on access, development and use of non-motorized trails.” To this end, RTA works with the Town, private property owners and the US Forest Service to establish and maintain a trails network in and around the Town of Rico.

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Section 4 describes the MOU objective.


The objective of this MOU is to identify the basis for the Town and RTA’s cooperative efforts to fund, develop and maintain the RGS River Trail located in the Town’s River Corridor dedication area and the Town’s easement area located on private land (“Popek Property”) in compliance with the terms and conditions of the Recreational Trail Easement executed by the Town and the Popek Property owners (“Popek Easement”). The Portions of the RGS River Trail located on the Popek Property and within the Town’s River Corridor dedication area are collectively referred to herein as the “Town’s RGS River Trail Areas.”

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Section 5 lists RGS River Trail tasks on which RTA and Town of Rico will cooperate.


Town and RTA hereby commit to the following actions:

a. Cooperation in trail construction, realignment and restoration in the Town’s RGS River Trail Areas.

b. Cooperation in the installation of gates, boulders or other barricades and signage on the Town’s RGS River Trail Areas in compliance with the Popek Easement and Town land use regulations and ordinances.

c. Cooperatively identifying and securing funding for the pedestrian bridge on the Popek Property pursuant to the terms of the Popek Easement.

d. Cooperatively identifying and developing an unpaved parking area near the RGS River T

rail’s trailhead on the Town’s River Corridor dedication property, if determined necessary by the Town.

e. Cooperation and coordination of grooming and maintaining the Town’s RGS River Trail Areas in conjunction with RTA’s performance of the same or similar activities on sections of the RGS River Trail located on U.S. Forest Service property.

f. Cooperatively implementing publicity efforts related to the RGS River Trail.

g. Cooperatively educating the general public as to use restrictions and historic features of the RGS River Trail.

h. Cooperatively developing and implementing an operating plan for year-round use of the RGS River Trail.

i. Developing and continuing to build upon good working relationships with private property owners, public agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, regional trails associations and local and regional historic preservation organizations.

j. Cooperatively communicating with CDOT regarding highway crossings and parking issues if necessary and appropriate.

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Section 6 lists existing Town and RTA responsibilities which are not changed by the MOU.


This MOU does not:

a. Alter or relinquish the Town’s responsibility for management of non-recreational resources within its jurisdiction or authority.

b. Modify or alter any existing established rights or agreements.

c. Modify, in any way, the respective duties, obligations, rights, privileges, legal defenses or immunities of the parties.

d. Obligate the parties to exchange and/or sell land.

e. Obligate the Town to construct or maintain trails or trail infrastructure.

f. Obligate the Town or RTA to perform winter (Nordic) trail grooming.

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Section 7 lists actions which RTA and Town of Rico will perform to complete the RGS River Trail project, including planning, construction, maintenance, grant applications, and matching funds.


a. The parties will seek grants and other funding to assist with planning, developing, managing and maintaining the Town’s RGS River Trail Areas as a quality public recreational trail.

b. RTA and the Town will be co-applicants on the 2021 Non-Motorized Trails Grant Application submitted to Colorado Parks and Wildlife for funds to pay for bridge engineering and related assessments(“Planning Grant”).

c. RTA will provide matching funds for the Planning Grant, in an amount equal to the Town’s match, up to $3,000.

d. RTA will provide matching funds for the RGS River Trail’s pedestrian bridge to be installed on the Popek Property. The agreed amount, payment timing and conditions shall be set forth in a separate instrument signed by the parties once cost estimates are completed during the planning process.

e. RTA shall be responsible for providing labor for the construction, realignment, improvement and maintenance of the RGS River Trail single track and for installation of signage and barricades. Such efforts will be undertaken by RTA in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service for portions of the RGS River Trail located on U.S. Forest Service land and in conjunction with the Town (and in compliance with the Popek Easement) for portions located in the Town’s RGS River Trail Areas.

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Portion of proposed RGS River Trail map contained in Rico Board of Trustees meeting packet - September 15, 2020. Location of coke ovens and RGS RR bridge are labeled.

History of RGS Trail Project

RTA described its past RGS trail easement efforts and support for the proposed easement in a September 10, 2020 correspondence to the Rico Board of Trustees. The following is a summary of this history:

  • RTA formed in 2017 for Rico-area non-motorized trail development and maintenance.
  • A multi-use river corridor trail along the Rio Grande Southern (“RGS”) railroad grade along the east fork of the Dolores River from Town south to Dolores/Montezuma County line is RTA top priority.
  • RTA efforts in 2018 to obtain US Forest Service (USFS) identification of the RGS RR grade as a critical non-motorized link for its (USFS) Rico-West Dolores Roads and Trails Travel Management Project, with support from Town of Rico Board of Trustees.
  • USFS Scoping Notice for the Rico Trails Project, September 2019, starts the planning process for designating the RGS River Trail as a multi-use non-motorized forest system trail on USFS lands.
  • RTA and Town of Rico participation in USFS request for comments during USFS “comment periods” related to proposed RGS Trail on USFS lands south of Rico.
  • RTA participation in initial private land easement acquisition discussions for RGS Trail, leading to signed easement between landowner and Town of Rico.

Trail alignment, pedestrian bridge, volunteer work

The same RTA correspondence to Rico Board of Trustees contains comments related to RGS Trail alignment, pedestrian bridge location, RTA members’ volunteer work, and proposed bridge planning grant application. - Note: blue text are direct quotations, headings added by Ore Cart. -

Trail alignment

As a condition of granting access through his property, Mr. Popek designated a trail alignment that would work with his site planning. For this reason, some of the RGS trail’s alignment on the Popek property is not on the historic RGS railroad grade. A worthwhile compromise given that without such access, the RGS trail’s route from Town would have ended at the north edge of this property, and would have required trail users to travel on or along the highway to reach the County line.

Pedestrian bridge location

The pedestrian bridge would cross the river in the historic RGS bridge location adjacent to the stone coke ovens.(2) This site provides the most, and practically speaking the only, feasible location for a bridge and the quickest means of regaining the RGS railroad grade on USFS land south of the Popek property. We also believe that by installing the bridge at this location we can more deeply connect to the history of our area, as it nods to the former bridge from the turn of the 20th century.

RTA members’ time devoted to the RGS Trail proposal

RTA has contributed countless hours of volunteer time and funding to the RGS River Trail project. RTA paid for the cultural assessment required by federal law for USFS trail designation. The trail’s alignment was surveyed by RTA’s volunteer surveyor, Dave Bulson. The Recreational Trail Easement was drafted by RTA’s pro bono attorney, Nicole Pieterse. RTA undertook these efforts so that the Town would not have to.

Pedestrian bridge proposed planning grant application

. . . RTA and the Town are joint applicants for a Colorado Parks and Wildlife planning grant to fund the engineering, design and assessments for the bridge that are necessary for obtaining a GOCO grant for funds to construct the bridge. RTA is providing matching funds for both grant applications.

Recreational trail easement crossing private land approved

Town of Rico received this month a signed easement from landowners Michael Popek and Alana Karen, "Grantors" , who reside in Palo Alto, California. Below in easement excerpts text, "Grantors" are the landowners, "Grantee" is Town of Rico. Town of Rico Board of Trustees voted to approve this easement at its September 15, 2020 monthly meeting.

Reproduced below are the first several sections of the easement document describing allowed use of the easement, restricted use, grantor's rights, allowed construction, trail relocation, and maintenance. - Note: blue text are direct quotations. - 

1. Grant of Trail Easement. Grantor hereby grants, quitclaims, conveys, assigns, establishes, and creates to and for the benefit of Grantee, for Grantee’s and the public’s use and the use of Grantee’s agents, contractors and employees, a perpetual, non-exclusive public recreational trail easement over and across Grantor’s Property for pedestrian, bicycle and other non-motorized mechanical means of conveyance and for trail and infrastructure installation and maintenance within the area depicted on Exhibits B (“Trail Easement”).

2. Restrictions on Use. Camping, campfires, hunting, livestock and equestrian uses shall not be permitted in the Trail Easement area. Except as set forth in sections 4 and 5 below, motorized use shall not be permitted in the Trail Easement area.

3. Grantor’s Rights. Grantor reserves the right of ownership, use, and occupancy of Grantor’s Property, insofar as the ownership, use, and occupancy does not materially impair the rights granted to Grantee herein. Without limiting the foregoing, Grantor may install utility and cable lines, paving, and landscaping, fencing and other improvements so long as the same do not interfere with Grantee’s use of the designated Trail Easement area on Grantor’s Property. Moreover, Grantor may remove or plow snow from driveway areas, grade and/or pave driveway areas, and nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to limit Grantor’s right to modify the circulation of automobile or pedestrian traffic within Grantor’s Property, provided that use of the Trail Easement is not materially diminished, unreasonably interfered with, or causes a violation of applicable law.

4. Construction of Trail Improvements. Town of Rico may conduct the following work on the trail easement - (condensed list):

. . . clear brush, rocks and stumps, and in that portion of the Trail Easement area where no trail currently exists, to construct a single tract dirt trail (“NewTrail” as well as a pedestrian/bicycle bridge to be constructed/installed across the East Fork of the Dolores River in the historic bridge location shown on Exhibit B. . . .

At the north and south ends of the Trail Easement area just inside Grantor’s Property’s boundaries, Grantee shall install gates and/or boulders and signage to block and prohibit unauthorized motorized access. . . .5. Trail Relocation. If the location of the Trail Easement interferers with Grantor’s use and development of the Grantor’s Property, Grantor may require Grantee to relocate the Trail Easement to another portion of the Grantor’s Property as reasonably and mutually determined by Grantor and Grantee at the cost of the Grantee in a manner which does not require relocation of Grantee’s adjoining sections of trail on adjacent properties and which does not require relocation of the bridge. . . . 

6. Maintenance of Trail Easement Area; Grooming. Grantee, at its sole cost and expense, shall be responsible for maintaining the trail and other trail improvements located in the Trail Easement area in reasonably good condition. Motorized tools, vehicles and equipment may be used for such maintenance. During the months of November through March each winter, Grantee shall be permitted to groom the trail for Nordic recreation, including but not limited to Nordic skiing, snow shoeing, fat biking and other non-motorized use (“Nordic Grooming”). Nordic Grooming may only occur between the hours of 8am and 9pm.

Grant application to Colorado Parks and Wildlife for planning construction of RGS trail and a bridge

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Following direction from the Board of Trustees from last month, I have begun to put together an application for a planning grant from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife for planning the construction of a trail and a bridge on the Dolores Placer (Mike Popek’s property). If we are successful in obtaining this grant, it would fund an engineer’s construction plan for the abutments of the bridge and a cost estimate along with the necessary environmental assessment. We would be requesting $17,500 for this work. The required match is 30% or $7,500. The Rico Trail’s Alliance has agreed to contribute $3,000 in addition to helping with support letters, which can be a challenging part of these applications. It should be noted that when I talked to the Rico Trail’s Alliance, I was intending to request a total of $20,000 rather than $25,000. I upped the request to $25,000 subsequent to being alerted by the Trail’s Alliance that the environmental assessment that they supplied to the USFS for trail work was $10,000 rather than my estimate of $5,000. The stretch of trail that we would be evaluating would be shorter and more impacted by Colorado Highway 145 so I believe that $25,000 will cover the total cost of the project.


Ore Cart July 27, 2020 report, section Popek trail easement - Rio Grand Southern route