Aspen’s Ride for the Pass on Saturday will help fund environmental work

Cyclists start up the first incline after the winter closure gate at last year's Ride for the Pass. The regular ride covers 10 miles and about 2,300 feet to the Independence ghost town. A shorter ride goes to the Weller parking lot.
Jeremy Wallace/special to The Aspen Times |


What: Ride for the Pass

Purpose: Fundraiser for Independence Pass Foundation

When: Saturday at 10 a.m.

Where: The winter closure gate 5 miles east of Aspen

Course: Full ride is 10 miles to Independence ghost town. A family-friendly course ends at Weller.

Cost: $45 for individuals; $75 for families. Includes post-race party at the St. Regis.

Registration: Online through 2 p.m. Friday at In person at Limelight Hotel on Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Ride-day registration will be at the start from 8 to 9 a.m. and the fees will be $50 individual, $80 families.

More than 400 riders will partake in Aspen’s annual rite of spring Saturday when the 23rd annual Ride for the Pass kicks off.

Competitive riders participating in a race through the Aspen Cycling Club will put their heads down and mash the pedals to crank up the 10-mile course to the Independence ghost town in less than 45 minutes.

The majority of riders will enjoy a more leisurely pace that combines strong effort with soaking in the stunning views.

Regardless of how they approach the event, all riders will play a pivotal role in helping the Independence Pass Foundation do its thing.

“It’s an awareness-raiser of Independence Pass Foundation and what we do,” said Karin Teague, executive director of the Independence Pass Foundation. The ride also a “friend-raiser” — an event where old friends get together or new friends meet over a common, shared experience.

The ride is a signature event of a magnitude that most nonprofit organizations can only dream about. Cyclists leap at the chance to ride Independence Pass while it remains closed to traffic.

The opening of Highway 82 is scheduled for the Thursday prior to Memorial Day weekend, which this year is May 25.

It’s invaluable to be able to grunt up the 2,300 vertical feet of the ride without worrying about vehicles whizzing by. It’s even more priceless to cruise down knowing you won’t come upon traffic or have vehicles coming at you in the tight spots.

Though the official ride ends at Independence, many riders will take the opportunity to seize the summit while it’s without vehicles. The Colorado Department of Transportation plows have cleared the way.

“There’s quite a bit of snow at the top cut,” Teague said. She spent a recent day with the plow drivers while they barreled through 10-foot high drifts.

While the event gives cyclists a unique fix, it’s also essential for the foundation’s budget. The ride will raise roughly $25,000 — a large chunk of the foundation’s $215,000 annual budget. There are more than 60 sponsors paying between $250 and $2,500 to put on this year’s Ride. That’s critical to turning a profit.

“It’s not an inexpensive event to run,” Teague said. In addition to the race itself, there is a post-race party at the St. Regis.

The foundation was created by Bob Lewis in 1990 initially to focus on stabilizing road cuts and healing the scars created decades ago during the creation of Highway 82. The mission has expanded into numerous projects that are like spokes revolving around a central hub. That hub or core mission is preserving and enhancing the natural environment of the spectacular pass.

The foundation has assumed a broader role preserving the ecosystem of the pass as the Forest Service’s budget has tightened over the past decade.

“Our role has expanded largely to act as a friend to the Forest Service,” Teague said.

Following are projects Teague outlined for 2017, all contingent on U.S. Forest Service approval:

• Teaming with the Forest Service to provide bear-proof food and trash lockers at the designated camping spots along Lincoln Creek Road. The dispersed sites are among the most popular in the Aspen area but increasing bear activity has spurred the Forest Service to close them for significant periods in recent summers.

“Last year they were closed about one half of the time,” Teague said.

• Spending time eradicating yellow toadflax, thistle and other noxious weeds. It’s a thankless but vital task. Invasive weeds can effect all elevations of the pass if not attended.

“Our staying on top of it is really helping,” Teague said.

• Likely teaming with outdoor groups and volunteer organizations to restore eroding and unsustainable trails to climbing areas.

• Installing a new interpretative sign at the summit and relocating a small communication shack from its location by the summit sign (where everyone wants their picture) to behind the toilets.

• Pursuing the next phase in cleaning up the terrain by the winter closure gate. The ramshackle area was landscaped with a wall and berm that will be planted this year with native trees and grasses. The dilapidated closure gate will be replaced and the parking area will be repaved.

• Continue the restoration of Mountain Boy, a peak off the summit. An immense snow fence was erected on the peak in the 1960s as an experiment to capture more snow for water supply. It’s an ongoing project. Inmates from the Buena Vista Correctional Facility will help dismantle fence and pull rebar. A Forest Service mule team will haul the material out since helicopters cannot be used in designated wilderness.

Teague said she believes that 27 years of work on projects led by the foundation and numerous partners has improved the ecological health of Independence Pass. She graded it as an eight out of 10.

“Compared to where we were in 1989,” she said, “we’re looking pretty good.”