Governor John Hickenlooper doesn't have a lot of spare time for bike rides, but on Thursday he got the chance to cruise down several miles of the Summit County recreation path from Copper Mountain to Frisco.
"This is really the first time I've ridden more than a mile this year," he said, adding that it's not a very long trip from the Governor's Mansion to the state capital.
The ride came after a presentation from the county open space and trails department, which was showing off a planned extension of the path that would link Summit and Lake counties over Fremont Pass, allowing cyclists to skip the treacherous stretch of Highway 91 dubbed "The Narrows."
That project is one of 16 chosen by the governor's office last year for its Colorado the Beautiful initiative, which identified the state's most pressing trail gaps in the hopes that the added spotlight might help local governments gin up funding to get them built.
“I appreciate that public-private mix and I love the notion that we’re getting counties working with each other.”John HickenlooperColorado governor
"The state's role here isn't top-down," said Ken Gart, the governor's bike czar and the man who spearheaded the program. "It's to facilitate and help find opportunities to get local groups involved."
Last year, the county unsuccessfully courted a $2 million grant for the project from state lottery funds. Nonetheless, said open space and trails director Brian Lorch, the designation from the governor's office was key to a $4 million federal grant the county secured for the project in February.
"I just want to thank everyone who was involved in getting us on that list," he said. "It was huge for getting access to the grant — being able to say the governor is behind this."
Although the county has secured partial funding for the trail, it still has another hurdle to clear; the route runs through lynx habitat, and there are also concerns about bringing people to one of the last patches of untouched land in the county.
If the project gets the final green light, however, it would fill a key link in the still-fabled Alma-to-Aspen loop, an enormous trail network that would include roughly half of Colorado's 14ers.
"We're trying to get from here to Leadville, to Aspen, to Glenwood, to Vail and back," assistant county manager Thad Noll said. "That kind of a loop will become a mecca for summer tourism."
Officials hope to begin work on the first 3-mile stretch in 2020. The full path would follow a long-abandoned railroad grade, cross Highway 91 via a new overpass and end just south of Leadville after a brief stretch through private land owned by the Climax Molybdenum Mine.
"I appreciate that public-private mix and I love the notion that we're getting counties working with each other," Hicknelooper said. "I think the real willingness and commitment to make these bike trails all over the state a reality is going to be a big deal."
Hickenlooper said that polling done by his office shows that good bike infrastructure is a major draw for the young people coming to Colorado in droves, who in turn contribute to Colorado's strong economy.
"We're at, what, 2.3 percent unemployment?" he said. "That's a good place for a state to be, and part of it is we've become this destination, and bikes are a huge part of it."