Trail upgrades protect Arkansas River in Buena Vista

Whipple Trail corridor improvements help manage growth in popularity

The Town of Buena Vista is completing a trail project to address erosion, safety concerns, congestion and additional issues on the popular Whipple Trail, which begins on the east side of the town bridge over the Arkansas River.

More than 140,000 trail users crossed the bridge in 2021, according to Bureau of Land Management trail counter data tallied by the Buena Vista Singletrack Coalition (BVSC).

The Whipple Bridge and Trail are the gateways from the Buena Vista River Park to a large system of non-motorized, multi-use trails in the Midland area of the Fourmile Travel Management Area. The trail connects municipal lands to public lands and is among the busiest in Colorado. Use of the bridge and trail continues to grow. An average of 600 people per day were counted in July — a 20% increase over 2021.

The trail is in dire need of repair and upgrades to protect its users and the natural environment, said Earl Richmond, recreation special projects manager for the town. The trail parallels the east side of the river about 50 feet above the water, with no official access to the river. “As a result, numerous user-created social trails loosen soil and cause erosion and sediment deposition into the water,” Richmond said. The social trails direct stormwater runoff toward the river, taking trail tread, trash and dog feces along for the ride. In many places, the trail is too narrow for pedestrians to safely pass.

Improvements on the first 1,500 feet will widen the trail and enhance the tread, as problem areas will be rerouted. Three official paths to the river and two viewpoint overlooks will be established over the first third-mile section to replace unsustainable user-created routes. Restoration efforts and signage will prevent future resource damage and sediment issues.

The town was awarded a $44,700 Chaffee Common Ground grant for the project, which will be completed in the fall of 2022.

“The trail upgrades will improve access to our beautiful river for a wider range of users and make it safer because there will be enough room to pass each other,” said BVSC Board Chair Kelly Collins, who also chairs the town’s trails advisory board. BVSC and the town contributed cash and in-kind services to the project.

A Southwest Conservation Corps crew completed preliminary project work by trimming branches and building retaining walls to support the wider trail, opening up viewpoints and improving the sloping path to the BV Whitewater Park Staircase Wave.

Whipple Trail restoration is one of the top projects in the Chaffee County Outdoor Recreation Management Plan. It prioritizes critical infrastructure needs to address growing outdoor recreation use and its impacts. The trail is located in one of the plan’s Community Concentration Zones — designated to focus development and improvements around populated centers to support continued quality outdoor experiences while protecting the natural environment.