As Glenwood Canyon reopens, business owners estatic about return of crowds

Charlie Wertheim
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
The Colorado River divides Glenwood Canyon slurry and a burn scar on the ridge from the Grizzly Creek Fire on Monday, August 24, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Business owners in Glenwood Springs were nearly doing backflips for joy at the reopening of Interstate 70 on Monday after a near two-week closure due to the Grizzly Creek Fire.

“Ecstatic,” said Cindy Svatos, longtime employee of Confetti Designs on Grand Avenue in downtown Glenwood Springs.

“It’s going to make a tremendous difference,” she said. “I’m already seeing more traffic coming through town right now.”

That joy was shared by Krissy Clary, owner of the Co. Ranch House restaurant just down the down the block and across the street.

“We are ecstatic that we are able to salvage what’s left of our summer season,” she said. “We’ve staffed back up for the coming weekend. I think people will be excited to get back to Glenwood.”

Motorists traveling through Glenwood Canyon need to be aware that caution and patience are advised. A head-to-head traffic configuration on the lower, eastbound lanes remains in place between the Hanging Lake Tunnels and No Name, same as before the Aug. 10 closure when construction was taking place on the upper, westbound deck. That work remains suspended.

“I would plan for 40 mph in the canyon,” Elise Thatcher, northwest Colorado communications manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said Monday.

“Our biggest concern is distracted driving because having an accident in that (head-to-head) detour slows everything down for everybody. … We’re really hoping we can get people to pay attention on the road.”

While CDOT says the road is safe, officials are concerned about debris flows should there be a heavy rainstorm in the area.

Thatcher said they are “confident” they have a sense for when to anticipate a debris flow.

When conditions signal a slide risk, CDOT will close the road in advance.

“When it looks like the conditions are right for a debris flow, we’re going to close the canyon two hours before that’s expected to happen,” she said. “That’ll give us plenty of time to put the closures in place … and clear traffic from the canyon.”

With that in mind, motorists should check the weather and prepare a Plan B in case an alternate route is needed.

Determining slide risk takes some experience.

“We are working with really smart people who evaluate burn areas,” Thatcher said. “We have a lot of great information that we are working with, and we’re working with folks who specialize in this sort of thing.”

More information will be available this week about drainages that are at risk for debris flows, Thatcher said.

“There are areas that are more likely to have debris flows in the canyon, and this is one reason why we have rest area closures,” she said. “We don’t want people to stop where it’s more likely that materials will come down on them.”

She mentioned Grizzly Creek as an example.

CDOT was lucky to have a detour in place in the canyon when the fire started two weeks ago, Thatcher said.

“We already had the head-to-head detour in place for the Phase 7 surface improvements project, and being able to immediately have that as a detour option so we don’t have people on the westbound deck — which is more vulnerable to things coming down — is a big resource for us,” she said.

One possible future delay in the canyon that “is not on the short list,” Thatcher said, is clearing boulder fields of rocks, a process known as rock scaling. Rocks may be at risk of falling because supporting vegetation has burned away.

“I haven’t heard any specific discussion about scaling,” she said. “Job number one has been reopening the canyon safely.”

And local businesses are happy about that.

“We’re thrilled. It’s been just devastating after the pandemic,” said Tara Meixsell, who works the front desk at the Silver Spruce on West Sixth Street. “We were finally getting tourism back, we were doing well. Even with COVID protocols we were selling out. People were getting last-ditch vacations in, and then the door slammed shut.

“Everyone had a huge smile on their face this morning,” she said.