Stage and Rail Trail project history

April 20, 2016 – Stage and Rail Trail receives Colorado Parks and Wildlife Trails program grant for beginning Phase 1 development of the trail.

GARNA has just been notified it will receive $26,000 to cover the first of an anticipated two years’ work on Phase 1 implementation of the Stage and Rail Trail. These funds will be augmented by cash and in-kind matching funds from local partners and the privately-contributed S&RT Support Fund.  As early as late summer 2016, the Stage and Rail team will take critical steps necessary to begin this multi-year 64-mile trail project. Chief among these is contracting a professional Project Coordinator and convening the trail coordination body under GARNA that is anticipated in the draft Master Plan. With this coordination structure in place, the potential management partners – Lake and Chaffee Counties, the towns of Salida, Buena Vista and Leadville, the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area and its BLM co-managers, and the Leadville District of the US Forest Service San Isabel NF – will be encouraged to formally designate the trail within their jurisdictions.

View a press release covering the award announcement.

Meanwhile the S&RT is engaging with the Interagency Trails Council that Governor Hickenlooper has established to facilitate state-level assistance to the 16 Trails in 2016 (see below). A presentation was made to that Council April 11 in Denver which included a summary and identification of remaining challenges and areas in which assistance from the Council will be appreciated. On that Council are top-level representatives of state agencies including DNR’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks, GOCO, DOLA, CDOT, the Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry, Colorado Pedals and others. Areas the S&RT is requesting assistance on include provision of GOCO funding for conservation easements on some private lands along the S&RT, funding for physical development activities beyond Phase 1, and encouragement to the Union Pacific Railroad to allow some use of their rights of way for the S&RT and other recreational proposals.

Stay tuned to this page for updates during the summer while we finalize the first year budget and activities!

Jan. 20, 2016 — Stage & Rail Trail named by Gov. John Hickenlooper as one of the state’s highest priority trail projects as part of Colorado the Beautiful’s “16 in 2016” initiative

The Stage & Rail Trail / GARNA team is extremely excited to announce that the Colorado Governor’s office has recognized the Arkansas River Stage & Rail Trail and the tremendous efforts put forth during the now 8-year, volunteer-led effort. The visibility brought by this considerable honor will provide a welcome incentive for all the trail’s partners to work together to make this long-developing concept become a reality. Read the full press release.

Download all or selected sections of the draft Master Plan HERE.

Earlier Updates:

Stage and Rail Trail project history

History of Leadville Stage Road and CO Midland Railroad

Draft Stage and Rail Trail Master Plan published

SRT logo emblem

This GARNA-administered project’s vision is a 64-mile long hiking/biking/horseback trail between Leadville and Salida along historic stagecoach and railroad routes. Over the past several years, GARNA and some of its local volunteer members have been exploring how best to draw attention to the historic significance and facilitate preservation of two of the upper Arkansas River’s major early transportation corridors: the Canon City to Leadville Stage Road and the Colorado Midland Railroad. In early 2010 this effort became more focused when GARNA was awarded a $40,000 planning grant from the Colorado State Trails Program to conduct a feasibility study, followed by a second grant in 2013 to develop a draft Master Plan.

History of Leadville Stage Road and CO Midland Railroad

Stage and Rail Trail Public Review Scheduled

Stage coach photo

Source: Hayden Family, Yellowstone, pre 1925








For those who have wondered whatever happened to the “SR&T”, that idea is alive and well and ready for more review and comment by the public.

The Stage and Rail planning team, which has continued under sponsorship of GARNA, will hold a public meeting to review a draft Master Plan for the trail on:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 from 3:00-5:00 pm at the Community Center at the east end of East Main Street in Buena Vista. The team will stay on until 6:00 pm or later to accommodate late comers.

An invitation to attend the review, or to provide comments separately, is being emailed to some 200 individuals and institutions that have been directly involved in the process of considering this idea through both an earlier Feasibility Study completed in 2012 and the current Master Plan development. But the meeting – and opportunity to comment – is open to all.

The review will involve a short presentation but the “heart” will be a series of maps on display, covering the entire trail corridor concept, with Team members available to answer questions. Key potential future managing partners including Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (the state park), Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, Lake and Chaffee County Commissioners and officials from Salida, Buena Vista and Leadville have indicated they will attend, although their decision-making will not come until the draft is formally presented to them.

If you can’t attend the review, the Team is still anxious to hear from you, and will make sure the appropriate potential partners also hear your views. Address e-mail comments to the planning team coordinator Alan Robinson at or by mail to GARNA PO Box 1522, Salida, CO 81201. Comments received up to December 12 will get consideration in preparing the final documents.

As a quick refresher, this is what is being considered

  • A 64-mile long slow speed trail focused on celebrating history of the stage road and Midland RR
  • Some sections non-motorized natural surface suited to hiking, mountain biking and horseback
  • Some sections for licensed motor vehicles and mountain biking on low-volume county roads
  • Interpretive displays at trailheads, along the trail or at overlooks from adjacent highway
  • Educational and interpretive contributions to existing programs including the two Scenic Byways
  • Several different managers would be involved if the Master Plan is adopted, depending on jurisdiction (AHRA, Lake and Chaffee Counties, the towns of Salida, Buena Vista and Leadville)

For orientation, here is a map of the Lake and Chaffee County region indicating generally where the proposed S&RT would pass.

S&RT Regional Map 11.3.14

Click on the regional map for a larger scale PDF map where you can “zoom” in on to focus on an area of special interest.

The PDF map is divided into eight sections, each one covering some 7-9 miles along the proposed trail. As you zoom closer you see a lot of detail on historic and natural resources that lie along the route, which of several different public and private land managers or owners are involved, what public facilities may already exist, and those which might be developed if the Master Plan is accepted and implemented. The draft Master Plan which will accompany this map is a long and detailed description of the background of the concept, technical discussion of the role that individual agencies would play, what costs might be anticipated, how the multiple managers might be coordinated by a non-governmental coordinator, proposed interpretive displays, and management issues such as seasonal closures for wildlife protection and annual maintenance. The Plan itself is not on review now, but the maps are so comprehensive that they can nearly stand alone as a description of the proposals.

For those who have not been following the “S&RT” idea over the past number of years, there are several places you could turn to to catch up:


LSR from 24

For decades, residents of Chaffee and Lake Counties, and our many visitors, have observed from a distance the fascinating remnants of the 1870’s stage road along the Arkansas River, especially evident around the small community of Granite. Equally interesting are pieces of Colorado’s famous Midland Railroad and its contemporary competitor the Denver and Rio Grande Railway, some of which have survived as Chaffee County public roads including the well-known tunnels north of Buena Vista.

Bikers s&n of Granite

Driving on MRR


Beginning about 2006 some local citizens, initially interested just in sorting our historical routes and facts about the little-studied stage road, began wondering how the history and significance of these two routes could be better highlighted and celebrated. Ultimately this interest focused on the idea of developing a hiking, mountain biking and horseback trail – with some sections along public roads open to licensed motorized traffic as well – as a slow-speed complement to the two existing scenic byways along the modern riverside highways and the Arkansas River itself. The latter is already hugely popular as the nation’s most commercially rafted whitewater river, and equally well known for its Gold Medal Waters trout fishery status.

CR163 river view

Arkansas River along Chaffee County 163 (the S&RT preferred alignment)

Fast-forward past obtaining two separate grants, hundreds of individual and group meetings with potential managing partners, private land owners, special interest groups, and a national award for the Feasibility study  – and lots of pros and cons heard – we are now at the stage of nearly having a draft Master Plan. The preferred alignment of the trail, the types of facilities to be developed, the use of “off-site” (close-by but not on the physical trail) overlooks and interpretation – all were informed by input received from potential partners, private land owners, wildlife specialists  and groups who have interest in eventually hiking/biking/fishing and horseback use of an S&RT. And this is indeed a draft: after receiving and addressing comments associated with the November 19 review, the draft will be delivered to these potential managing partners for their consideration. They are the “decision-makers” on whether or not they will accept and commit to implementing part or all of the 64-mile long concept. The grant-funded planning team will cease to exist; GARNA itself is not a potential managing partner and thus is not a primary decision-maker, although it could have a future role in hosting an S&RT coordinating entity only after managing partners have committed to implementing the trail.
Please consider writing in comments or attending the November 19th meeting in Buena Vista!

Project News

November 2014 – For the past 10 months the second, grant-funded Master Plan study has been collecting information and further refining ideas considered in the Feasibility Study completed in 2012. That study is nearing completion of a draft plan, and before being presented to decision-makers in the various agencies who may implement the trail plan, a final public review is scheduled beginning with a meeting in Buena Vista on November 19.

July 2013 – Second planning grant awarded from the Colorado State Trails Program to develop a Master Plan. This will spell out in more detail specific routes that might be opened to public use plus physical development of trailheads, signs and interpretive materials and be the definitive document through which the partners could commit to their roles in the trail and corridor’s implementation. The Plan will address physical development requirements, anticipated costs, and responsibilities of implementing partners, coordination between partners, and how to assure consistency in management, interpretation and long-term maintenance.

2013 – Feasibility Study received national recognition. GARNA and the trail corridor’s Working Group were pleased to learn that the June 2012 Feasibility Study on the Salida to Leadville Trail Corridor was recipient of the 2013 national trail planning and design award from the American Trails organization.

June 2012 – The final Feasibility Study of a Salida to Leadville Trail Corridor completed. Related documents can be accessed below.


Additional Resources

Stage and Rail Trail project history: A detailed project history includes completion of a feasibility study, draft master plan and designation as one of Governor Hickenlooper’s “16 in 2016” priority trails.

History of Leadville Stage Road and CO Midland Railroad:  Learn more about the historic routes that serve as the basis for the stage and rail project.


The stage road south of Two Bit Gulch



GARNA is the Arkansas River Valley’s only local broadly focused conservation and educational institution with non-profit status. GARNA is supported by membership fees…will you join us?

Subscribe to our newsletter