The Paths to Mesa Verde trail project has been awarded $652,000 in grants for final planning and engineering.
The 17-mile hiking and biking trail would connect Mancos and Cortez with Mesa Verde National Park.
This month, Montezuma County was awarded a $459,000 from the Colorado Multi-modal Options Fund. In January, the project was awarded $193,000 to the state’s Colorado the Beautiful Grant.
The funding will be used to complete the final 50% of planning needed, said county public lands director James Dietrich.
“Once the final plans are completed this year, it will be shelf-ready for construction,” he said.
The county is under consideration for a $5.5 million Federal Lands Access Program grant to build the stretch from Mancos to Mesa Verde.
On the Mancos side, the 10-foot-wide crushed gravel path will run along the south side of U.S. Highway 160. It will be separated from the highway, and include safety barriers.
On the Cortez to Mesa Verde side, the exact trail alignment location is still under review, Dietrich said.
Community surveys showed more than 90% support for the Paths to Mesa Verde trail. Preference was for it to be away from the highway if possible.
That was not possible on the Mancos side, but may be on the Cortez side, planners said. If not possible, the Cortez side will also be built in the U.S. 160 corridor but separated from vehicle traffic.
To pay for construction on the Cortez side, additional FLAP funding will be sought.
A potential route once the trail from Cortez reaches the county fairgrounds is to cross to the north side of the highway via an underpass or a pedestrian bridge.
From there it would extend to Phil’s World trail system and on to Pueblo Community College, then continue on the north side to the highway overpass accessing Mesa Verde and the Mancos connection.
If the current federal funding request is awarded, construction could begin on the Mancos side in 2024, Dietrich said.
Once half the federal trail project gets built, it puts it in good position for funding to construct the Cortez half.
“The trail will provide connectivity to Mesa Verde that does not required a vehicle, and will feed into the adventure tourism market,” Dietrich said.
Users could hike or bike from Mancos or Cortez and take a bus to view and visit the ruins at Mesa Verde. If construction is funded, it would be built by federal contractors and be reviewed under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The trail will be for non-motorized use and be ADA-accessible.