Independence Pass project complete | AspenTimes.com

Independence Pass project complete

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The most visible, “spectacular” part of stabilizing the soil at the top of Independence Pass is finally finished, after seven years of work, planning and fund-raising.

The result is a length of wall that’s 650 feet long and 20 feet high at its highest point, and soil that’s engineered to be stable. The project, which has been coordinated by the Independence Pass Foundation, is part of a plan to restore the slipping soil to a pre-erosion state.

Although there’s more work to be done in the future, this recently completed section is the most visible to people traveling on Highway 82 to the top of the pass. Altogether, that area where the road cuts severely into the landscape is known as the “top cut.”

“It’s a huge project – and it’s been our number one priority for years,” said Mark Fuller, director of the Independence Pass Foundation. “This is the biggest exposed slope on the top cut. We’re not done by any means, but we’ve bitten off and chewed up the biggest chunk.”

A chunk worth $1 million, that is. Fuller said half of the project was paid for with cash from the foundation, and the other half came in the form of donated labor and materials from the Colorado Department of Transportation, the inmate work program at Buena Vista Correctional Center, and other suppliers and contractors. Many contractors also gave the foundation discounts for their work.

Over the years that crews have worked in the area, giant mesh nets have been placed on the hillside to keep the soil from sliding, and to serve as a firm base for the addition of native plants on the bare hills. The cut’s rock walls were constructed with rocks taken from the area around Weller Campground, and also from a giant rock slide that struck the top of the pass in 1999.

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Fuller said behind the recently completed rock walls – a sort of layer cake of dirt, rock and engineering material – makes for dirt that’s evenly distributed.

Proof of the stability of the soil in that area comes from plants that have been growing successfully between sections of the rock wall over the past three or four years, Fuller said.

Additional work that needs to be done in the area includes work on what’s known as the “middle cut,” just above the newly stabilized area. Fuller said the road might need to be closed temporarily, as soon as next year, to build a similar rock wall, and to work on areas where the road cut “travels” uphill, damaging the tundra at the top of the slope.

When that is complete, workers will start trying to revegetate the hills below the road, where there is so little organic material in the soil that it’s difficult to get plants to grow.

“We’re proud of this project, and we think it’s a great example of how a project can be done through local partnerships at a grass-roots level,” Fuller said.

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