Riding the rails in Colorado

  Rails may be the most cost- and energy-efficient way to move commodities across our landscape, but they're also a shrinking asset; America's major railroads abandon about 3,200 miles of track every year.


How should state and local governments, and community activists, respond when a railroad files to abandon a line?


Colorado, where rail mileage has declined to half its 1913 peak of 5,764 miles, has come up with some answers in an authoritative and quite readable guidebook, authored by Skye Ridley.


For starters, the Colorado Railroad & Rail Corridor Guide suggests, fight the abandonment. What works best is to get rail shippers to oppose it before the federal Surface Transportation Board. If that fails, look for a short-line operator who might continue rail service; every full rail car is the equivalent of four loaded semis, which damage roads while adding to pollution and congestion.


But by all means preserve the corridor, even if it has no ties or track. It may be needed again someday for rail purposes (local governments are trying to resurrect the Glenwood Springs-Aspen route for mass transit). In the interim, these 100- to 200-foot-wide rights-of-way can serve as trails for hikers, horseback riders and bicyclists.


Further, there are environmental benefits. Railroads scarred the landscape when they were built in the 19th century, but "time heals all wounds."


According to the Colorado Guide, after a century the railroad grades have "become natural and benefit the local ecology." Native plants can thrive, and, "the raised railbed can act as a dam, creating many small wetlands which provide rich plant, animal and bird habitat." Wildlife also migrate along these routes. Community support for corridor preservation is vital, the Guide points out, and so is an informed public.


The Guide explains the abandonment process in common-sense language, rather than the stilted dialect of $500-an-hour railroad lawyers, and it starts with ways to tell whether a line is in danger of abandonment.


There's also a directory that covers everything from federal agencies to potential short-line operators and rail-to-trail conversion experts. Colorado's existing and abandoned rail lines are examined in detail for their survivability and suitability for corridor preservation.


This is a model government report - comprehensive, informative, and above all quite readable, with guidance for action if that becomes necessary. Railroad corridors are as important now as they were a century ago when the lines were constructed, and every state ought to produce a similar guide. This one, though designed for Coloradans, contains much that would be useful elsewhere in the West.


The Colorado Guide is well worth your time if there's a railroad corridor - be it an operating through line or a long-abandoned narrow-gauge spur - near your community.


*Ed Quillen








Colorado Railroad & Rail Corridor Guide was published in 1998 by the Colorado Department of Transportation and the State Trails Program of Colorado State Parks. The guide, published in two parts, with illustrations and maps, is free and can be obtained from Colorado State Parks, 303/866-3437; or Colorado State Parks Trails Program, 1313 Sherman St., Room 618, Denver, CO 80203; or from e-mail: [email protected]


High Country News Classifieds
  • SOCIAL MEDIA AND DIGITAL ADVERTISING SPECIALIST
    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Utah's largest conservation organization, has an immediate opening for a full-time Social Media and Digital Advertising Specialist. This position...
  • SPRING-FED PARCELS ON THE UPPER SAC RIVER
    Adjacent parcels above the Upper Sacramento river, near Dunsmuir. The smaller is just under 3 acres, with the larger at just under 15 acres. Multiple...
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Greater Yellowstone Coalition seeks a development professional to coordinate the organization's individual giving program. The position description is available at http://greateryellowstone.org/careers Please email a letter...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. At least 8-10 years of experience...
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER AND BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring for two positions. We seek a Communications Manager to execute inspiring and impactful communications...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Volunteers Wilderness Volunteers (WV), a 24-year leader in preserving our nation's wildlands, is seeking a motivated person with deep outdoor interests to guide our...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • FISHERIES BIOLOGIST
    Under the direct supervision of the Director of Shoshone-Paiute Tribe's Fish, Wildlife & Parks, in coordination with the Tribal Programs Administrator and the Tribal Chairman,...
  • REGIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR NORTHERN ROCKIES, PRAIRIES & PACIFIC REGION
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation has grown into America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more than...
  • STEWARDSHIP MANAGER
    STEWARDSHIP MANAGER Job Vacancy and Description Posted June 2, 2021: Open until filled The New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) is a non-profit, regional land trust...
  • KSJD - MORNING EDITION HOST/REPORTER
    KSJD is seeking a host/reporter. Please see for www.ksjd.org for more information. EEO compliant.
  • ON THE EDGE OF CEDAR MESA/BEARS EARS
    Quiet, comfy house for rent in Bluff, Utah. Walk to San Juan River. Bike or hike to many nearby ruins and rock art sites. Beautiful...
  • CARPENTER AND LABORER WANTED.
    Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rain forest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg meadows,...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Title: Project Manager Reports To: Program Director Salary Range: Negotiable; starting at $60,000 Location: Bend, OR The Deschutes River Conservancy seeks a Project Manager to...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Deschutes River Conservancy seeks a Program Director to join our dynamic team in restoring streamflow and improving water quality in the Deschutes Basin. WHO...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - TWISPWORKS
    Established healthy nonprofit in the Methow Valley of Washington state, TwispWorks is hiring the next Executive Director. Terrific opportunity to strive for our mission to...
  • BOARD DIRECTOR
    Help us achieve our mission of promoting excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship, science and education to ensure the life-sustaining benefits of wilderness....
  • TEMPORARY FULL-TIME RANCH OPERATIONS ASSISTANT
    Twin Willows Ranch in Ocate, NM is seeking to immediately fill a Temporary Full-Time employment position as Ranch Operations Assistant for Facilities, Equipment, Land, and...
  • RANCH OPERATIONS ASSISTANT
    Twin Willows Ranch in Ocate, NM is seeking an individual to fill the Regular Full-Time position of Resident Operations Assistant for Technology, Hospitality, Gardening, and...
  • POEM+ NEWSLETTER
    Start each month with a poem in your inbox by signing up for Taylor S. Winchell's monthly Poem+ Newsletter. No frills. No news. No politics....