Update on the Stage Rail Trail: Leadville To Salida
One of the magical things about driving south along Highway 24, aside from the beautiful scenery, is the sense of history you feel when traveling beside the same route as the old stagecoaches and rail lines. As you gaze out across the Arkansas River, the defined line of those former transportation routes comes in and out of focus as they bounce their way along the waterway.
No doubt the stagecoach and railroad were rough and dusty means of making your way into the high country. But the riches that enticed many to “head west” were not going to be waylaid by discomfort or the perils that stagecoach and rail travelers encountered along the way, from highway robbers to unexpected snow blizzards. It makes you wonder what it would have been like to make the trip to Leadville via stagecoach or rialroad.
Today, thanks to efforts by Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA), the experience of journeying along that same passageway is one step closer to reality. The GARNA folks have been spearheading the Stage and Rail Trail project, a 64-mile long hiking/biking/horseback trail between Leadville and Salida, along historic stagecoach and railroad routes.
For decades, residents of Chaffee and Lake Counties, as well as 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.
This GARNA-administered project focuses on the development of a long-distance hiking/biking/horseback and – in some sections – driving trail along the historic stage road and Midland Railroad. According to their website: 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.
Now, the group is focused on fundraising efforts to make the trail a reality. You may learn more about how to contribute time, resources, and knowledge: HERE. The group hopes to keep the dream alive and for GARNA to assure that the wheels keep spinning down the dirty, dusty trails to Leadville.