The gateway to Independence Pass might be spruced up to give it a look befitting one of the great scenic driving routes in the Rocky Mountains.
The Independence Pass Foundation and U.S. Forest Service opened discussions Wednesday on improving the area around the winter-closure gate about five miles east of Aspen. The concept is to make it more aesthetically appealing and to provide useful information to travelers, particularly the legions who drive and cycle the route during summers, according to Independence Pass Foundation Executive Director Mark Fuller.
“We don’t have any set ideas,” Fuller said. “It’s been on our mind for some time now that the winter gate could use some beautification and some improvements in information.”
No information currently is offered to travelers about the history of the area and what they will see on the drive up Independence Pass. The Independence Pass Foundation and the Forest Service believe that it would be beneficial to add a kiosk where the winter gate is located to provide travelers with information.
The information kiosk would be left there year-round, even though there aren’t as many winter visitors when the road is closed, Fuller said. Neither the foundation nor the Forest Service wants the responsibility of taking the kiosk apart during winters, he said.
The area around the winter gate has a sort of Soviet-era Russia feel to it. Concrete jersey barriers are placed alongside the gate, earthen ramps allow the Colorado Department of Transportation to load equipment, and the north side of the road features a vast, unkempt parking area where truckers can turn around once they realize big rigs shouldn’t be on Highway 82 over the pass.
Fuller said there always would be a utilitarian appearance to the area because the Transportation Department needs to load equipment and effectively enforce the winter closure. However, improvements can be made that will give it more of a look of the gateway to the spectacular pass, he said.
The foundation and Forest Service will try to get a consensus on a plan this year with Pitkin County and CDOT. That will give the Forest Service all next winter to perform a review under the National Environmental Policy Act, if necessary. Nothing will be changed until 2015, at the earliest, Fuller said.
“I think it will be some fairly minor changes,” he said. “The area will be recognizable when it’s done.”
The Independence Pass Foundation plans to install some interpretative signs this fall at the summit of Independence Pass, where trails lead to the high peaks from the parking lot. The foundation will pay for the design, fabrication and installation of the signs. They will explain the significance of the Continental Divide and discuss its fragile ecology, Fuller said. The signs have the blessing of the Forest Service.
The foundation also will clean up fill that has been stockpiled on the upper Lost Man curve. That fill was used for the multi-year project to stabilize the hillside at the Upper Cut. The project is finished, and no more fill is needed.
Trail work at the summit also will be completed this year, and the removal of snow fences and debris from the Continental Divide will be ongoing.
“We don’t have a giant project this year,” Fuller said.