The birthplace of the famed 10th Mountain Division is also the birthplace of Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry, and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) is trying to declare it a National Historic Landscape.
He made the announcement in front of 10th Mountain Division legends Sandy Treat and Crosby Perry-Smith and a small crowd of their families and friends, amid the remains of Camp Hale’s recreation hall.
Perry-Smith smiled, nodded at the senator and declared it “an excellent idea.”
He was on Riva Ridge, a 1,500-foot climb the Nazis didn’t think could be done in the daylight. Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division climbed it at night, under heavy fire, so his and Treat’s opinions count more than most.
“The soldiers we honor today did not just climb Riva Ridge or take Mount Belvedere or serve in the Middle East or come to our nation’s aid — they also shaped much of the state of Colorado as we know it today,” Bennet said. “Their leadership, their resilience and sense of adventure is everywhere. The 10th has produced leaders who have built entire industries from the ground up.
“They changed our state’s entire economy, and changed how people around the world experience the mountains in winter.”
VETS SUPPORT IT
Hundreds of Colorado veterans have made it clear to him and others that this is important to them.
Garett Reppenhagen used to be a sniper in Iraq. Now he’s the Rocky Mountain West coordinator for the Vet Voice Foundation, one of the groups promoting this idea.
When he returned home he headed outdoors, and it was nature that healed him, he said.
He said it’s no surprise that the men of the 10th Mountain Division returned home and started a recreational movement in the outdoors.
“It’s impossible to feel anything but peace when you’re standing in a stream with a rod in your hand,” Reppenhagen said. “I want my son to come here, not just for outdoor recreation, but to learn about why it’s possible for us to enjoy it.”
Nancy Roberts Kramer’s father was a 10th Mountain veteran. They lived in Steamboat Springs after he returned home from World War II. Like most veterans, he didn’t talk much about it.
“There was not a lot of conversation in our families about what happened,” she said.
One summer day, they drove down through Leadville, stopped at the Silver Dollar Saloon for a libation, then made their way to Camp Hale.
“We were just being a bunch of Chatty Cathys when we saw our dad standing silently in front of the memorial with his hand on the names,” Kramer said. “It made us aware of the importance of this place and what they had been through.”
NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDSCAPE
For now, there’s no such thing as a National Historical Landscape, but there will be if Bennet’s idea becomes a reality. The plan is to include Camp Hale as the nation’s first National Historic Landscape in Boulder Democrat Jared Polis’ Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Bill.
“It would protect this landscape, where their story begins, and ensure they are never forgotten,” Bennet said.
Like clockwork, Memorial Day Weekend brings the return of sailing, canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding to waterways across Summit County, from Green Mountain Reservoir north of Silverthorne to big, bad Dillon Reservoir in the heart of the county.
On Friday, Frisco Bay Marina and Dillon Marina opened in full for the season. Frisco is home to canoe, kayak and powerboat rentals all summer from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, while Dillon is the launch ramp for sailboats and other large craft. Services there are available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.
Of course, it wouldn’t be sailing season without a patio and summery something to sip on. The Tiki Bar at Dillon Marina is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to dusk. Over in Frisco, the Island Grill is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., weather permitting, with happy hour from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
DON’T DIP INTO DILLON
Dillon Reservoir is more than a high alpine lake. It also serves as the water basin for all of the Front Range, which means Denver Water oversees all fishing and boating on the res. This is no small-town pond — it’s tightly regulated and all users need to know what they can and can’t do.
The big one: no swimming at Dillon Reservoir. This includes scuba diving, water skiing and personal watercraft like jet skis. Windsurfing is allowed with a full wet or dry suit. The swimming restriction also extends to dogs, so don’t let Fido take a swim, even from the shore.
If you’re on a powerboat, the speed limit is 30 miles per hour and all boaters younger than 13 years old must wear a PFD at all times. All hulled craft must be launched from a boat ramp at either marina and drivers need to first register personal craft with the Colorado Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation Registration Unit.
Swimming and water skiing might be restricted on Dillon Reservoir, but don’t fret: Green Mountain Reservoir is open to both. The Heeney Marina boat ramp is currently open for motorized craft that pass a free inspection for zebra and quagga mussels. The Heeney Marina is open to craft up to 30-feet. All larger craft need to launch from McDonald Flats, which will likely open in early June.
For more info, call the marina directly at (970) 724-9441.
CATCH PIKE, MAKE CASH
Fishing is permitted on both Dillon Reservoir and Green Mountain Reservoir, but, again, as tightly regulated waters all fisherman need to know the regulations before heading out. A fishing license isn’t quite enough. For specifics, see the full CPW fishing manual at cpw.co.state.us.
At Green Mountain, the local CPW officials have established a bounty for an invasive pike species introduced illegally in 2012 by an unlicensed visitor. The pike pose a threat to native species on feeder waterways, including the Blue River and Colorado River. When you catch a pike, bring it to the Heenery Marina for a $20 reward per fish.
At Dillon Reservoir, fishing is allowed from boats or the shore. No one is allowed to fish from Dam Road or anywhere near the dam structure. Fishing from docks and boat ramps is also restricted.
Both the summer and winter seasons are on-track to reach new highs, in Summit and across the western U.S. Thanks to a solid snow season, a relatively stable economy and a growing reputation, Summit broke records in lodging rates for the 2015-’16 ski season.
According to statistics gathered by DestiMetrics, a Denver-based destination consulting service, Summit County saw a 1 percent increase in occupancy and an 8 percent increase in lodging rates, for total revenue growth of 9 percent.
Compared with western U.S. resorts, Summit saw less occupancy growth, but more rate increases; the overall U.S. Mountain Market saw occupancy increase of 4.4 percent and rate increases of just under one percent.
“Summit County gained more overall revenue,” DestiMetrics director of operations Ralf Garrison said. “But they did so largely by raising the price, not attracting more people.”
With strong demand across the board, winter rates have traditionally been higher than the summer, as a more established vacation market
“Breckenridge has a reputation of having a consistent season throughout the year,” said Bill Wishowski, director of operations for the Breckenridge Tourism Office.
“We open at a normal time, but in those last couple weeks of April, people are used to us being open and having that snow.”
Last season, Breckenridge saw a nominal increase in occupancy, at just half a percent, but still reached a record-setting level for the town.
“We beat last year, and last year was a record winter. We beat that one by very little,” Wishowski said. “As we’re setting records on occupancy, it’s not as if you can’t come up.”
He noted even in the busier winter season, there are often weekday openings in the town. He attributed part of Breckenridge’s seasonal growth not just to the skier market, but to a growing number of ‘winter vacationers’ seeking other activities, such as snowshoeing, dogsledding or catching a bit of history.
“With so many things to do in Breckenridge, our growth in occupancy isn’t just the skiers coming. … The town is our advantage,” he said.
In total, the town reached 52.8 percent occupancy for the winter, with the majority of openings on weekdays.
While Front Range visitors often keep up-to-date with the latest snow forecasts for a weekend getaway, Garrison said that wasn’t necessarily the case for out-of-state visitors.
“They’re more likely to book on how they heard last year was or the long-term reputation,” Garrison said. “There’s a phenomena we call snow equity — If you go to a restaurant and have a good meal, you’re likely to come back because it left a good impression.”
In the same way, heavy late-season snowfall, as seen the past two winters, often increases bookings for the following season.
“The destination guest that comes from out of state books earlier, stays longer, and makes reservations before they even know what snow conditions are going to be like,” Garrison said. “You care more about the snow and less about the economy if you’re close by.”
With abundant snowfall in the early season, just before Christmas, Garrison said early sales were off to a good start last season. But later in February, with several weeks of dry, mild weather, bookings reduced to a slower pace than usual. Then, late April flurries brought in a more local crowd.
“The late season snow we got in April didn’t hurt us a bit,” Wishowski laughed. “We’re blessed. We do celebrate Ullr for a reason.”
While the national economy remained relatively stable for most of last season, erratic swings at the beginning of 2016 reduced consumer confidence, resulting in a bit of a pullback in January and February.
“The last three years have been averaging about a 10 percent increase as we come out of the recession,” Garrison said. “While last year was still growing, at an all time record coming out of the recession, the rate of growth was less than it has been.”
International travel also slowed last year, in part due to the strength of the U.S. dollar. Not only does a stronger dollar increase the cost of a vacation for most international travelers, but it also gives citizens a stronger incentive to travel abroad.
“It was a little more competitive because the Canadian dollar,” Wishowski said. “U.S. travelers were taking advantage of going up to Canada and saving money.”
In addition, improved snow on the west coast, including Tahoe and Mammoth resorts, may have also detracted slightly from Colorado visitor levels.
THE PUSH FOR SUMMER
In mountain resort communities, the appeal of the milder, summer months is gaining renown among visitors. While many of the towns are still synonymous with powder days and cozy mountain lodges, summer brings its own special charm with a wide range of outdoor activities.
“Summer is just two to three years in being discovered by the out-of-state visitor,” Garrison said. “People are booking further in advance for summer. More than half of this summer’s reservation activity is already on the books and deposited as of May 1.”
Nationwide, occupancy rates for the “summer season” (May through October) have set a record for the past four years in a row. At the rate the season has started, this year may break records again.
In total, mountain resort occupancies are up 11 percent so far for this upcoming summer, with rates up seven percent for a total revenue increase of 19 percent. Summit is up 8 percent in occupancy and 8 percent in rates, for a total of 16 percent. Yet even with the jumps in summer lodging prices, the season is a much more affordable time to travel to the mountains, with rates at about half of winter prices.
“Winter has a higher demand, and is more established, so people expect to pay more,” Garrison said.
In Breckenridge, summer bookings are outpacing last year’s by about 8 percent.
“To see 8 percent growth early on is certainly positive,” Wishowski said. “About 40 percent of our summer business is on the books.”
In total, the town still sees slightly lower occupancy rates than the winter, at about 34 percent.
The town’s growth is not consistent through all of the months. Early season, in May and June is a tougher sell with chilly weather and variable conditions. But the autumn months are one of the largest areas of growth, with warmer weather and back-to-back events creating more reasons to visit.
“This September is going to be good because we have some new events coming on,” Wishowski said. “Essentially, we have eight days or so where we have one event after another.”
This fall, Oktoberfest, Camp 9600, the Breckenridge Film Festival, the Governor’s Conference on Tourism and a new event, the Breckenridge Wine Classic will all fall within a week of each other.
Meanwhile, in the early season, a new BreckCreate exhibit is expecting to bring in more visitors next week, as well as a women’s business conference.
“Summer business peaks in July and falls off in late August as kids go back to school,” Garrison said. “Then, there’s a big bump in September and early October. It’s almost like a whole new season.”
Between summer’s explosive growth, and winter’s more modest increases, Garrison said he expects to see a balance of sorts between the two seasons, creating more stability.
“The tourism-based economy is leveling out,” he said.
Tenmile Creek is the polar opposite of Water World.
Down on Pecos Street in Denver, the largest water park in Colorado is gearing up for the summer season with water slides, wave pools and everything else you’d expect at a manmade water playground. There are dangers to be sure, but everything at Water World is overseen by well-trained lifeguards and managed by tons upon tons of machinery, all designed to keep guests as safe as possible. All you need is sunscreen and a decent breaststroke.
In Summit County, the early-summer scene is entirely different. On Tenmile Creek — the waterway found just outside of Frisco on the shoulder of Interstate 70 — whitewater rafting seems just as enticing as Cowabunga Beach and Turtle Bay in suburban Denver. The river is flowing at 247 cubic feet per second, which is relatively low compared to the May 27 average of 407 cfs. In other words, Tenmile is lower and friendlier than usual, at least on paper, and experienced kayakers are anxious for the true start of a stellar whitewater season.
“Understand that as things start to finally warm up in the mountains, it will get serious out there,” said Matti Wade, a veteran paddler and owner of Ten Mile Creek Kayaks, a shop on the shore of its namesake creek. “But, even right now the water is moving so fast that even playing on the shores can be dangerous. Water runoff is a serious thing.”
Still, Tenmile looks so inviting and so friendly that inexperienced rafters are tempted to try it now before the “true” start of whitewater season.
“You can’t hop on any river in Colorado and expect chutes and ladders,” Wade said. “Right now, the water is running high and it is freezing cold. (Water) exposure can impact anyone within two or three minutes, and that’s much faster than being exposed on a mountain with clothing.”
It’s a deadly combination. On the Sunday before Memorial Day Weekend, a duo of inexperienced rafters took a flimsy inner tube on the frigid waters just outside of Frisco for their first private whitewater trip of the season. Within minutes, the two got dumped into the rapids by massive boulders and unpredictable eddies, leading to an eventual rescue within eyeshot of homes and patios on the fringes of Frisco. The two are now safe and sound, but the incident is an example of the difference between Mother Nature and Water World.
“They had no idea what they were getting into,” said Wade of the rescued duo, who was first spotted by one of his experienced friends paddling the creek. “They had no idea that Tenmile has a fair amount of rapids, and they were there with no PFDs and everything… I end up stopping people from putting canoes and inner tubes on the water, especially this time of year. Every year I see some drama on Tenmile.”
WATER TEAM TO THE RESCUE
The whitewater in Summit County this weekend is unpredictable — experts expect water levels to peak in mid-June — but it’s not entirely unmonitored. From winter to summer, a small corps of volunteers with the Summit County Water Rescue Team helps with rescue efforts when inexperienced boaters get into trouble on the Tenmile and other area waters, including the Blue River, Dillon Reservoir and Green Mountain Reservoir. As the only trained water-rescue crew in the Rockies, the team also travels to Grand, Park, Eagle and Lake counties throughout the year.
Drew Fontana, lead for the rescue team, came to Summit County from Colorado Springs 11 years ago and soon connected with the government-supported outfit. He’s a lifelong diver, which made his skillset a perfect fit for the team.
“Being from Colorado it’s kind of difficult to stay with diving, so when I found out I could do that locally, every weekend, that’s when I was sold on the team,” Fontana said. “It doesn’t hurt that we’re helping the community with everything we do.”
Soon enough, Fontana was deeply involved with the rescue team. He and his fellow volunteers train twice a week, 52 weeks a year, working with traditional equipment like rafts and buoys and more specialized equipment like cold-water scuba gear. For a lifelong river rat, the chance to learn more about high-alpine water safety was invaluable — even though he had no idea it existed.
“I honestly had no idea there was a water rescue team,” Fontana said. “A team member recruited me, put it in my ear, and it just sounded like a great idea. You get free training and you get to scuba dive in lake Dillon. Not may people get to do that.”
TRAINING FOR ALL
Like Fontana, New York native Brandon Cuillo didn’t know there was a volunteer outfit when he first moved to Summit County in 2008. His background on the water runs deep — his dad owned a boat as a child, and he worked on a Hawaiian cruise ship for there years before coming to Colorado — but he was relatively new to the intimidating environment of Rocky Mountain whitewater.
It all changed in 2014. On a trip to Wyoming’s Shoshone River, he and a group braved the waters at 5,000 cfs. Their raft hit a rock and one of his friends was tossed into the drink with an unstrapped PFD and helmet. He was knocked unconscious and drifted through a long, seemingly endless stretch of rapids before the group retrieved him.
“I’m a big rafter,” Cuillo said. “I spend a lot of time on the river and I’d had a couple of small incidents where people in my group had minor injuries, so I wanted to take the swift water course to be prepared.”
Cuillo hooked up with the local water rescue team last season and has hardly looked back sense. The team is small, he says, with just about six or seven year-round members, but the experience and training he now has is invaluable for private rafting trips.
“I’ve honestly helped more people on private trips on my own than when I go on a call,” Cuillo said. “Everybody shows up to incidents, but when you have a recovery with the divers, we are the go-to guys.”
As Cuillo says, the water rescue team regularly pairs with other local organizations, such as Summit County Search and Rescue, for trainings and emergency calls. But, as a cog in the first-responder team, the water group has a role to play, and it’s much different than the EMS aid victims receive from search and rescue members.
“When there is a drowning or accident, we are there to do the recovery on the lake or the river,” said Fontana, who’s responded to several drownings and other water-related deaths in the past few seasons. “I wasn’t trained for this, but it’s in-house training we receive. My personality prepared me for it but I really didn’t have experience with it.”
Cuillo has also responded to several drownings, including a 2015 incident on Grand Lake in Grand County. He and the team retrieved a body that had been in the lake for four days. It’s a much different situation from the Tenmile inner-tube incident last weekend, but he says the team has prepared him for the best and worst of the wild, wild waters of Colorado.
“I was alright emotionally, but then I spoke to the parents,” Cuillo said of the Grand Lake rescue. “They wanted to thank us for what we did, and just the act of handing over their son — giving them closure — was an amazing thing to experience. If there are only four or five of us who want to volunteer, I’ll be one of the five.”
Known as one of the first mountain biking trails dry enough to ride every year, the Oro Grande Trail is a solid early-season riding option. Following an aspen-covered hillside above Lake Dillon, this ride offers panoramic views of both the Tenmile and the Gore ranges. It’s also in a prime location for riding on your lunch break or immediately after work, though it tends to get a bit packed on weekends thanks to the connected Dillon disc golf course and a nearby pump track.
Unlike Frisco Peninsula, the route’s mix of doubletrack and singletrack is dry, hard and ready for moto-style turns — there’s hardly a patch of loose dirt to be found.
Ride up the dirt road and turn right immediately. Follow this fork past the water facility building on the right and up into the trees. Pass Tenderfoot Trail on the left. The road meanders through open meadows and stands of aspen as it crosses several hills.
Just beyond a fence, at about 2.1 miles, you’ll come to a four-way junction and an open area (also home to the Lake Dillon Disc Golf Course). To do a 4-mile loop, turn right and descend to Cemetery Road or return the way you came. Continue straight for the longer ride and climb, passing under power lines as you veer left and pass a couple of side roads surrounding the motocross track. The main road remains obvious as it climbs more, then descends to a wood fence and three-way junction at 2.8 miles.
Continue straight, passing through the fence onto a road that becomes more of a trail. Veer left near a large berm and climb through a sagebrush hillside. Pedal across a steep slope and swing sharply left above the landfill and Summit County Shooting Range. Climb through the trees and descend to connect with a main dirt road at 3.9 miles.
From this point you can either return as you came, continue onto Frey Gulch or connect with the paved recpath for a loop back to Dillon or rolling ride to Keystone.
From Interstate 70, drive east on Highway 6 to Dillon. Turn left on Lake Dillon Drive at the stoplight. Take an immediate right and follow the road that parallels the highway, turns to dirt and passes a water tank. Park in the pullout on the right by the Tenderfoot Trail sign.
With the warmer months on their way, the town of Dillon is looking to add extra polish to its summer events centerpiece, the Dillon Amphitheatre. The 25-year-old venue hosts a bevy of outdoor performances during the summer evenings, including free concerts, movie nights, dances and civic ceremonies.
The town intends to renovate the amphitheater within the next five years, starting with a master plan completed by Denver-based architecture firm Sink Combs Dethlefs.
“The amphitheater is just one of those beloved community amenities that is much greater than our town of Dillon,” Marketing and communications director Kerstin Anderson said. “We tried to hold on to qualities that made amphitheater so special but allow for more flexibility and expansion.”
Town council recently gave a preliminary approval to move forward with construction-level drawings of the amphitheater and secure financing for improvements through cash, loans, grants and capital campaigns.
“There are plenty of things we need to do,” Dillon town manager Tom Breslin said. “It needs a facelift, it needs to get ADA compliant, we need restrooms there and we need backstage facilities.”
To start, the master plan include improved restroom facilities, with about seven restrooms total, better ADA accessibility, a less steep grass seating area, wider stairways and increased walkway lighting. In total, the updated amphitheater will be able to host about 3,254 guests — slightly more than before. Every year, the venue draws upwards of 30,000 spectators, Anderson said.
“It’s just a lot of things that need to be updated,” town engineer Dan Burroughs said. “The stage is pretty small; the orchestra barely fits on it. We want a bigger stage to facilitate the orchestra every year.”
The new stage would measure 40 feet by 60 feet, allowing for a larger range of performance acts, and pushed back toward Lake Dillon, to allow for improved sightlines. New facilities, including a permanent box office, concession stand, restrooms and a first aid room will be located between the parking lot and seating bowl. The proposed update would also include better backstage facilities, including two green rooms, a loading area, staging areas and added storage.
“We think it will definitely improve the quality of our concerts,” Breslin said. “A better green room will probably bring in better acts.”
In addition, a decorative enclosure fence is proposed to help control visitor access, allowing for ticketed events. The sound system won’t be changed immediately, as it was recently updated, but may be part of the plan in the long term.
“The overall design is specifically intended to be more contemporary in order to project a progressive image for this essential town asset,” the master plan noted.
Burroughs said while the plan was still in the preliminary stages, construction drawings would help bring in a better estimate of the final price tag.
“Once we get a better handle on the cost, we’ll see what we can afford and where we can build that over next five years,” he said.
The amphitheater renovations are just a piece of Dillon’s capital improvements plan for the next 10 years, Breslin said. Looking at the past nine years, the town spent about $27 million on capital and is budgeting about $28 million for the next 10 years.
Along with the amphitheater, Dillon will also spend significant time and funds on improving Town Park. Breslin said they planned to address the amphitheater over the next three years, and Town Park in 2019 and 2020.
“The investment in the amphitheater is part of a long term plan to invest in public amenities in order to support and encourage redevelopment opportunities in the Town Center,” Mayor Kevin Burns said in a statement. “As part of the 2015 annual retreat, (council) looked at our goal of driving economic redevelopment and determined that the best action we can take currently is to invest in aging public amenities that have a proven track record of providing enjoyment for residents and guests, and that also contribute to the success and sustainability of our town by driving awareness, foot traffic and spending in Dillon.”
For the Dillon Amphitheatre, Breslin said the town would look at a phased approach to construction, ideally conducting work in the fall after the end of the summer concert series and in the spring, before the festivities start for the season.
“We’ll see how that works when we start working with the people who are going to build it,” he said. “We’re just excited to begin this undertaking. The staff’s worked quite hard to put this all together.”
Not too long down the road now, bicycling and walking around Summit Cove near Keystone will get a major boost.
The Colorado Department of Transportation, known better as just CDOT, announced its annual Safe Routes to School (SRTS) grant awards last week, and Summit County is a beneficiary in a big way. CDOT ranked the Summit Cove Elementary bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements as its top overall proposal in the state for the 2016 funding cycle, providing $350,000 to complete the project.
“This is the kind of project that this grant is really made for, to make it easier for kids to decide to take a bike or walk to school” said Thad Noll, assistant county manager. “It has been really difficult for some of the Western, more rural school districts to get these grants in the past, so this was a big deal.”
The SRTS program was created specifically to help communities throughout Colorado make school passages safer and more accessible by funding education and safe infrastructure, as well as encourage healthy options for arriving to school. The county first began discussing the idea of improving those area byways about four years ago but partnered closely with the Summit School District to attract CDOT to the pedestrian and bicycle land connections portion of its larger Summit Cove Loop Project late last year.
County senior planner Kate Berg and Crystal Miller, Summit Cove Elementary’s longtime principal, then got together during the school’s Christmas break and, using successful SRTS petitions from the past as their framework, hammered out all of the details for their grant application. Four and half months later, their pleas were heard.
“We want to see more kids out on bikes and walking to school, and maybe parents being more comfortable walking with their kids to school. I just think it’s a real positive thing for the school and county, and it makes these choices easy to make.”Thad Nollassistant county manager
“CDOT saw our site and condition,” said Miller, “and they ranked this one No. 1. We were pretty excited about that, to see that and have it realized so quickly. We’re thrilled to have received it, and now it’s time to dig up some concrete.”
Total estimated cost of the improvement plan is roughly $468,000 and the grant will cover approximately 75 percent of that, with construction scheduled to begin in summer 2017. The county will foot the remainder of the bill, on top of the costs associated with the Summit Cove enhancements outside of the school zone.
In particular, the school upgrades will include a raised and colored 4-foot wide pedestrian-bicycle lane on Cove Boulevard and construction of parallel-parking spots for student drop-off and pick-up, as well as better sidewalk accessibility to the present sites of ADA ramps and elevators into the elementary. Some of the new funding will also go toward some in-school programming to encourage students and parents to walk and bike to school.
“On nice days, our bike racks here are pretty full,” said Miller, “but with maybe four-to-five kids with no helmet, so we talk to them. But we have a curriculum on bike safety and helmet safety, as well as healthy lifestyles units of inquiry. We’ll integrate this great bike path into that and, hopefully, be able to make an impact.”
County approximations list Summit Cove, one of the more residential, family-dense neighborhoods — as opposed to second homes — as possessing 1,330 dwellings with a total of 1,600 residents. About 75 percent of the elementary school’s students live within a single mile, but, because of existing road conditions, biking or walking to school can be both difficult and dangerous, especially during the winter months. In turn, Summit Cove is the only elementary in the district that offers bussing to students less than a half-mile from the school.
“Given the winter environment and the way the road is structured as a loop that goes around — think about how a loop is plowed and with no sidewalk — it’s not really safe for students to walk on the road,” explained Miller. “Parents feel pressed to drive students because there’s not a way to access the school when there’s snow. With a sidewalk, I just think if we can keep it clear — and it’s my expectation that we can — kids can walk here in the morning, and there will be less traffic and less pollution around the school, all those sorts of things.”
She also noted the increased warm-weather recreation for all from the completion of this project — be it for parents teaching their young children how to ride a bike, to those multi-tasking by pushing a stroller in addition to walking the dog.
“The summer recreational opportunities are just phenomenal,” she said.
The multi-year Summit Cove Loop Project is currently in its second of several stages of phased construction. The overarching enterprise entails drainage refurbishments and resurfacing along five side roads, in addition to building a 2.4-mile bicycle-pedestrian loop of roadway through the neighborhood.
The second phase of the construction began during the second week of May and is expected to last through mid-October. This year’s construction includes a widening of Soda Creek causeway on Cove Boulevard approaching the intersection with Royal Coachman to create more room for bikes and foot traffic. The expansion of the causeway this year will help prepare the area for the bicycle-pedestrian lanes on Cove Boulevard the following summer.
“The causeway is really one of the most dangerous spots for pedestrians and bikes,” said Noll. “It’s the narrowest piece of roadway, and there’s no place to bail out if something’s happening. We really want to get that bridge feeling safer and add some bike lanes there.”
From there, it’s on to the school-focused project. The hope is that all said and done, the SRTS project will help provide more chances for nearby children to get themselves to school.
“This is ideal,” said Noll. “We want to see more kids out on bikes and walking to school, and maybe parents being more comfortable walking with their kids to school. I just think it’s a real positive thing for the school and county, and it makes these choices easy to make.”
Gregg Rippy spent three hours in a Copper Mountain parking lot last month waiting for Interstate 70 to reopen during a snowstorm. It was one of the Glenwood Springs civic leader’s longest delays in years among his frequent trips to Denver.
Through the winter, Carbondale’s Bob and Joyce Rankin, state lawmaker and State Board of Education member, respectively, decided against coming home from Denver some weekends “because we didn’t want to have to sit,” Joyce said.
Traversing mountain passes on I-70 is a quintessential Colorado experience for business and play — and, as these longtime Roaring Fork Valley residents know, can be a crapshoot.
This is especially true for people driving on the Western Slope, which accounted for 69 percent of I-70 closures between Denver and the Utah border during the last four years, according to a Post Independent analysis of data from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Where Rippy was stopped is in the bull’s-eye — I-70 was closed 280 times in one direction or the other between Vail and the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel from Jan. 1, 2012, through the end of 2015. During the four years, that was 47 percent of the closures, which happened an average of every 2.4 days.
To reduce closures, CDOT is employing new technology to monitor weather and road conditions in real time, enabling it to deploy snow removal equipment and order precautionary closures when weather turns bad quickly.
Among the findings of the PI data analysis:
• Nearly 600 incidents closed I-70 in at least one direction for a total of 1,076 hours and 32 minutes. Nearly 12 percent of that time, 125 hours, the freeway was closed completely.
• Unsurprisingly, Vail Pass was the No. 1 location, with 91 incidents accounting for 123 hours closed.
• Glenwood Canyon was next, with 43 incidents and 92 and a half hours of closure. Glenwood Springs was listed as the closure location for an additional 10 incidents totaling 22.5 hours, which was 10th on the list.
• Rounding out the top five closure locations were the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel, 68 closures and 92 hours, 7 minutes; Silverthorne, 43 and 87 hours, 25 minutes; and the Vail area, with 48 closures lasting a total of 86 hours.
• Georgetown was the top Eastern Slope spot, coming in sixth with 28 incidents and a total of 41 hours, 15 minutes closed.
• The stretch of I-70 from the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel to Denver accounted for 22 percent of the closure time, while the tunnel itself was listed as the closure location for 11 percent of the incidents and 8.4 percent of the hours closed.
• The longest stretch without a closure over the four years was 25 days, from Aug. 1-26, 2014. Then the road had closures five of the next six days.
• I-70 experienced closures each of the 48 months examined.
• The longest shutdown was nearly 13 hours at Palisade because of a wildfire in June 2012.
• That closure was before Glenwood Canyon was closed for almost a week in February, but rockslides and rockfall mitigation accounted for surprisingly little of the closure time, 38 incidents totaling 48 hours and 30 minutes for 2012-15.
• Vehicle fires accounted for 29 closures totaling 35 hours and 21 minutes.
• Floyd Hill eastbound is a hazardous spot at about 8:30 on January mornings. Sun glare caused an accident that closed I-70’s eastbound lanes in January 2015, and as a precaution for 48 minutes in January 2014.
• Livestock got on the freeway at the Lookout Mountain exit last November, closing the eastbound lanes for half an hour.
LENGTH OF CLOSURES
The median closure time was 1 hour, 6 minutes. While clearing a closure in Glenwood Canyon takes longer, with a median time of slightly more than 90 minutes — Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnel closures are cleared in 50 minutes, the numbers show.
Clearing closures in an hour is not good enough in CDOT’s view.
“Given some of the conditions, that’s not bad, but we’re totally unsatisfied with that as an agency,” said Ryan Rice, CDOT director of transportation systems management and operations. “Our goal is to keep the road open.”
That task, he said, “is like trying to conduct a ballet, orchestra and football team at the same time.”
The Eisenhower Tunnel, Rice said, “is the linchpin of the corridor.”
It holds one of three CDOT command centers on I-70 west of Denver, with the others being above the Hanging Lake Tunnels and the third in Golden.
Increasingly, CDOT is leveraging technology to monitor road conditions in real time.
This spring, for example, the agency is adding 30 friction sensors to the 15 that were in place over the winter. These sensors assess the grit of the roadway, allowing the agency to send equipment or take other steps when the surface is becoming slick.
In addition, Colorado is the first spot in the United States to test what Rice termed automated crowdsourcing of road conditions.
Through a partnership with Here, a company co-owned by German automakers Audi, BMW and Daimler, CDOT is leveraging smartphone technology to improve safety. It has put sensors on 200 vehicles — some in its fleet and some others that frequently travel I-70’s mountain corridor.
Cars equipped with these sensors, according to a CDOT website, detect traffic incidents and road conditions and sends data via cellular networks to the Here Location Cloud, which validates the information. “The results can then distributed to nearby vehicles, warning drivers immediately,” the CDOT site says. “Simultaneously, the results can be sent to a traffic management center, which can react to upcoming situations in real time.”
The stakes are high. Closures cost money for commerce and in delaying or discouraging people from visiting mountain resorts, but more importantly, 70 people died in I-70 crashes between Denver and Utah in the past four years, according the CDOT figures.
In that time, “things have changed a lot” for the better, said Stan Zemler, Vail’s city manager who also is part of the I-70 Coalition, a nonprofit organization representing 28 local governments and businesses along the mountain corridor.
He credited immediate past CDOT chief Don Hunt with improving the agency’s operating plan, “putting massive tow trucks on Vail Pass,” and moving other heavy equipment and making a financial commitment to the Western Slope.
CDOT has improved its internet and text updates and management of electronic message boards warning people about trouble spots ahead, he said. He also noted that truckers can stop at the large parking area created at Dotsero, and chain stations around Vail have been improved.
That’s important, Rice noted, because 40 to 60 percent of closure time involves commercial vehicles. The 2012-15 data specified 60 incidents, from rollovers and jackknifes, involving semi rigs, but other accidents likely involved trucks that weren’t noted in the report prepared for the PI.
The frequency of incidents involving trucks, coupled with the difficult terrain, likely explains the preponderance of closures on the west side of the Continental Divide compared with the east side.
“The Western Slope is more of a challenge,” Rice said, “because of weather, terrain and configuration of the road.” An accident that might not lead to a closure on another part of the road might require it on a steep, curvy stretch west of the divide to avoid a secondary crash, Rice said.
Rippy and Bob Rankin, among others, believe a big part of the problem is cavalier drivers.
“People were more prepared when it was two lanes,” said Rippy, a former state legislator and current member of the Statewide Internet Portal Authority. “Now, the expectation is we have an interstate, so people think we should just be able to go.”
Rankin, who serves in the Colorado House of Representatives, has tried two years in a row to require drivers to carry traction equipment or be running on snow tires, but has been blocked in the Senate.
“Closures are not always predictable, and people head up the mountains and are not prepared,” he said.
Veteran Carbondale trucker Keith Olson agrees.
“These guys come into Colorado and don’t know how to chain up a truck,” he said.
He wishes CDOT would be more proactive, though he agrees with Zemler that management has improved in the past couple of years, particularly near the Eisenhower Tunnel.
“We’ve known for years where the trouble spots are,” Olson said — the eastbound approach to Vail Pass Summit is the worst in his view — but “the snow starts coming, then the mess, then the deep snow, then CDOT shows up.”
Zemler, though, said closures are inevitable — “sometimes at Vail Pass, the weather is extreme,” he said.
Added Rice, at the high elevations, “in 5 to 20 minutes, conditions can really go south.”
Which makes it hard to go east and west across Colorado.