Margaret Keating of Moab rode her bike along Spanish Valley Drive in July 2017. Grand County Community and Economic Development Director Zacharia Levine anticipates that a new pathway could be developed along the route within five years, depending on the availability of funding sources. [Moab Sun News file photo]

You won’t hear Lynn Jackson question Grand County’s priorities for a new commuter pathway that eventually connects Moab with Spanish Valley.

The former Grand County Council member admits he was known on occasion to lament that trail builders seemed to focus much of their past attention on building recreational routes for visitors, as opposed to local residents. But Jackson’s preferences for more community trails and pathways dovetail perfectly with the county’s plans for a nonmotorized, multi-use route through Spanish Valley, which explains why he was there this week to help introduce the project.

“I’m sure some tourists will use this path or trail as we get it built, but this is for us,” Jackson told a packed crowd during a Feb. 26 open house at the Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency’s (GWSSA’s) office in Spanish Valley.

The project has been in the works since last year, when Grand County formally committed $100,000 in seed money. With that funding in place, the county lined up technical support from a National Park Service program that helps communities across the country develop outdoor recreation projects.

But this week’s meeting marked the first time for some residents to familiarize themselves with the planned 5.5-mile pathway that would run along Spanish Valley Drive from its intersection with Mill Creek Drive to the San Juan County line.

Grand County Road Department Supervisor Bill Jackson saw the open house as a kind of grassroots start to the project, and he encouraged local residents to weigh in with their ideas about the pathway.

“We’ve got some conceptual stuff to look at, but nothing is written in stone right now, and so your input is very important on how this project proceeds, and to what extent it proceeds,” he said.

Spanish Valley resident Don Oblak was not aware of the project until recently, but he can say with certainty that he and many of his neighbors would flock to the trail once it’s open to the public.

“We’re excited to see what’s going to happen,” he said.

Grand County Community and Economic Development Director Zacharia Levine, whose office is spearheading work on the project, anticipates that the trail could be completed within the next five years.

“It’s somewhat dependent on the funding we anticipate going after,” he said.

That five-year timeline has been accelerated from earlier projections, thanks to the sudden availability of new state funding sources. Specifically, Levine said the county hopes to tap into a Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) recreation hotspot fund for communities that are coping with increased traffic congestion due to the growth of tourism.

Lynn Jackson anticipates that the trail will be developed in stages.

“I don’t envision this … (as) being one big project that just gets done,” he said. “I think what we’re going to see is as funding is available … we’ll take the easy stuff first.”

“It could benefit a lot of folks”

The existing right-of-way along Spanish Valley Drive is 80 feet wide, and Levine told attendees that the county plans to work within those parameters. He emphasized that the county will not – and cannot, under state law – use eminent domain powers to set aside additional land for the project.

Betsy Byrne, a landscape architect with the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, said the trail can be built within the existing easement. There are some challenges along the route, though, she said – especially along a hilly stretch toward the north end.

Ideally, Byrne said, the trail would be a side path that is separated from the road by at least 8 feet, or – better yet – 10 to 12 feet. If it doesn’t fit within the right-of-way, she said, possible alternatives range from a paved shoulder to a bike lane, or a separated bike lane.

For Lynn Jackson, the project is as much about safety on Spanish Valley Drive as it is about anything else.

“If you’re trying to walk it – heaven forbid – or ride your bike, you know what I’m talking about,” he said. “If you’re driving your truck, you know you have a safety issue, because you won’t see a biker or a hiker sometimes.”

Bill Jackson shared those concerns: He said he routinely sees kids trying to reach designated school bus stops along the route, and said an established pathway would allow them to reach their destinations safely.

“It could benefit a lot of folks, let alone the driving public,” he said. “It would eliminate a lot of conflict points.”

The pathway would also promote alternative forms of transportation: Levine told open-house attendees that it could alleviate traffic congestion in downtown Moab if more valley residents commute to work via the trail.

“As the community continues to grow and new housing occurs or other uses occur farther south in the valley, we need to provide opportunities for folks to access the commercial core through means other than an automobile,” he said.

Public health benefits are another consideration, Levine said, noting that many studies link the use and availability of pathways to improved public health outcomes.

“That is always a concern for us in local government,” he said.

While current plans for the trail stop at the 5.5-mile mark, Levine said that officials are looking beyond the Grand County line, and toward the possibility of building an additional 2-mile stretch from the county line to the Ken’s Lake turnoff.

Levine said his office has been in touch with San Juan County Economic Development Director Natalie Randall, who seems to be excited about working on the project.

San Juan County recently kicked off the land-use planning process to guide future development at the southern end of the valley, and Levine said his office believes the time is right to plan for the extension.

“In our opinion, it makes sense to do this at the same time, if possible, and especially if that county anticipates additional development in the area,” he said. “We also hope that they see the value in putting this infrastructure in before that development occurs.”

Multi-use, nonmotorized pathway would connect Moab with Spanish Valley

It could benefit a lot of folks, let alone the driving public … It would eliminate a lot of conflict points.