It was negative 10 degrees on the December evening in 1986 when Cheryl Matthews and her fellow equestrians stood up and demanded a trail be built through Highlands Ranch.
Matthews, now the open space director for Douglas County, had learned that Mission Viejo, the company that owned Highlands Ranch at the time, had once promised a trail but hadn’t yet followed through on it.
So one night, when Mission Viejo was set to make a request of the county’s planning commission, Matthews and her friends filled the room and spoke at the podium about their request for a trail. The commission responded by telling the company they wouldn’t approve any more land use applications until they had worked with the residents on the trail, Matthews said.
“It was really pretty exciting to be a part of getting it in the plan,” Matthews said. “What got completed after that was a lot more than Highlands Ranch.”
As of July 24, that trail, which ended up being the 28-mile East/West Regional Trail, has finally been completed.
“It’s pretty amazing when you think about the scope of it,” Matthews said. “It was just kind of a dream back then.”
The trail, which runs from Cherry Creek Trail in Parker through Redstone Park in Highlands Ranch, has been constructed in segments. The final section is a four-mile segment that runs from Schweiger Ranch near RidgeGate Parkway and Interstate 25 to the underpass at South Chamber Road in Parker.
“It’s just so gratifying to actually see a vision come to life and it makes you feel so good,” Matthews said. “You had so many people involved in making it happen and now thousands and thousands of people can go out and enjoy it.”
Cyclists, equestrians, dogs, walkers and runners are all allowed on the soft-surface trail, which passes through grasslands, oak bluffs and the Highlands Ranch Backcountry. From the trail, one can often see Pikes Peak along with much of the front range. Wildlife like pronghorns, elk, deer, coyotes, bear and birds are also possible sightings in the area.
There are restrooms and picnic shelters at Grigss Road Trailhead near Daniels Park and the Bluffs Regional Park in Lone Tree.
Trail users can also connect to several other trails including the Highline Canal, Willow Creek Trail, Reuter-Hess Reservoir and Bluffs Park.
The 35-year project has been funded by a variety of methods including lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado grant dollars and the Douglas County general fund.
“What you’re doing is creating things for future generations,” Matthews said. “That’s one of the best parts of my job.”
After she got involved in the creation of the East/West Regional Trail, Matthews joined the county’s parks advisory board and eventually became the open space director.
A full map of the trail is available at www.douglas.co.us/east-west-regional-trail. Parking for the trail is available at Griggs Road Pavilion, Coyote Ridge Park, Rocky Heights Middle School, Bluffs Regional Park and Schweiger Ranch.
“Get out and enjoy it,” Matthews said.
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