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Publish Date: 9/20/2005

Possible road puts St. Vrain park in tight spot

LONGMONT — Millions of dollars to expand and improve St. Vrain State Park east of the city have been frozen by state leaders because Weld County officials refuse to rule out running a four-lane road through the park.

Park manager Bob Finch announced the freeze — and warned of further cuts — during a meeting Monday night between Weld County and other local officials.

“As of next year, our development grinds to a halt unless you can convince our leadership to reinvest,” Finch said. “They’ve already cut my budget.”

Finch said about $14 million has been taken from his budget for improving the 640-acre park because the state Parks Board is reluctant to spend money on a park only to see it bisected by a major road.

Finch said he’s not even sure if he’ll now have the funds to fill a newly built lake at the park, a lake he’s supposed to be using to grow fish to stock the fishing ponds for anglers.

The Weld County commissioners say additional north-south roads are needed in the western side of the county. And they say extending Weld County Road 7 through St. Vrain State Park makes the most sense because it’s straight and the land is owned by one entity.

But every municipality in the area — from Mead and Firestone to Frederick, Dacono and Longmont — vehemently opposes that plan. Finch says the road and bridge would prevent the construction of 45 campsites, two group picnic areas and a visitors’ center, and that’s only if he got all his budget money back.

Earlier this summer, officials from those cities and towns thought they had persuaded Weld County to consider alternatives. They even sent letters explaining their positions to the county, at the county’s request.

However, on Monday night, Weld County Commissioner Rob Masden said there may be no other reasonable alternatives. Weld County has spent about $250,000 to design the road and bridge through the park.

“Development will drive this decision,” Masden said. “There are landowners who want to talk about this, and we’ve got to listen. We’ve started getting all these calls and e-mails and letters from landowners and stakeholders wanting this road to go through.”

That’s a change from June, when Masden said: “We asked everybody what they thought about putting that bridge in, and nobody was in favor of it. If they don’t want it, it makes no sense to build it.”

Firestone Mayor Mike Simone on Monday again threatened to use what has been called a nuclear option: forcibly annexing the county road into his city to halt Weld County’s plans.

Simone and officials from the other area cities and towns said they were shocked that Weld County appeared to have reversed course and was again considering putting the road through.

“We will do what we have to do,” Simone said.

Masden and fellow Commissioner Mike Geile said they may put the project on the back burner and leave the decision up to their successors.

Longmont Mayor Julia Pirnack, who has floated the idea of running the road along WCR 51/2 north of Colo. Highway 119, said Weld County needs to make decisions quickly. She said there’s too much growth to wait.

Weld County officials on Monday said there are about 10,000 homes planned for construction in the area, outside of the homes to be built in existing municipalities.

“They said it was a dead issue (in June). They also said they would not be proposing an alternative,” Pirnack said of Weld County. “I don’t think we can say, ‘Let’s wait five or 10 years.’”

Masden said he would call state parks officials to see what it might take to get Finch’s funding restored.

Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at thughes@times-call.com.

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