‘Eyesore’ wires being pulled down from old poles along Independence Pass

Foundation working to remove 30,000 feet of old tension wire

Independence Pass Foundation volunteer leader Tim Hall, right, gets assistance from a Jaywalker Lodge participant removing wire from telephone poles on Independence Pass in the Grottos area on Thursday morning.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

For the past several decades, telephone lines to nowhere have been a curious part of the view for attentive travelers along a 10-mile stretch of Independence Pass.

Hundreds of poles and tens of thousands of feet of tension wire were left behind when the line was decommissioned years ago. Passengers in vehicles can occasionally spot the wires paralleling Highway 82 from roughly the winter gate east of Aspen to just short of the Independence ghost town. From there, the communications infrastructure’s path makes a 90-degree bend and climbs a saddle on the east flank of Green Mountain before plunging down to the water diversion works near Grizzly Reservoir.

“When it was last used, I don’t know,” said Karin Teague, executive director of the Independence Pass Foundation, an Aspen-based nonprofit organization dedicated to all issues on the pass. “There was never telegraph service into Independence.”

The telephone lines were apparently added in the 1930s or ’40s to serve the Twin Lakes Canal Co.’s water diversion facilities. The company hasn’t relied on telephone service for decades. An unknown party removed the telephone lines, typically made of copper, at an unknown time, she said.

“These very visible wires are an eyesore. It’s one of the most scenic and pristine corridors in the country.” — Karin Teague, Independence Pass Foundation

Teague and officials with the U.S. Forest Service have discussed the removal of the rest of the infrastructure and decided for now just the strands of tension wire will be removed. The Forest Service is still assessing if the telephone poles should be felled, removed or left alone.

“These very visible wires are an eyesore,” Teague said.

They often encroach on the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and mar the view.

“It’s one of the most scenic and pristine corridors in the country,” she said.

One of the primary eyesores is where the poles and wires climb the saddle by Green Mountain. The lines cover about 1 mile on both sides of the divide. There are roughly 110 poles and 10,000 feet of wire accessible from the ground and 20,000 feet of wire up the poles, according to a Forest Service assessment.

Teague and Forest Service officials are concerned about the potential for wildlife to get tangled in the low wires. Teague said the wires aren’t always visible. She “nearly got decapitated” on one adventure in the woods, she said.

In some places, collecting the wire would be easy because the poles are close to Highway 82. In other areas, the job would be difficult because the poles are situated in rougher terrain and the wire needs to be cut from high up on the poles.

Independence Pass Foundation will harness volunteer groups to help with the job. A crew from Jaywalker Lodge, an addiction treatment center for men in Carbondale, helped tackle some of the job Thursday, spending the day on the pass with Teague and her team.

They were able to remove all the wire from the Grottos day-use area upriver through Lincoln Campgrounds, past the Lincoln Creek turnoff and another mile further up the road.

“One 200-yard stretch of wire was literally embedded in the river and river bank,” Teague said. “I can’t tell you how good it felt to get that out of there.”

Teague is determined to remove a “significant chunk” of the wire this fall and aspires to complete the job.

The foundation also regularly chips away at a more daunting job of removing metal from an old snow fence in Mountain Boy Gulch, high up the pass. Three volunteer groups brought out scrap this summer. It’s hard work, Teague said, because the site is in designated wilderness, so vehicles and mechanized equipment cannot be used. The scrap was hauled on the backs of volunteers.

The snow fence and telephone pole tension wires are the two biggest examples of human impact on the pass that doesn’t have historical significance, so the foundation is working to eliminate them from the spectacular landscape.

“Our mission is to restore and protect the ecological, historical and aesthetic integrity of the Independence Pass corridor,” Teague said.

Some people, she noted, attach historic importance to the poles. She supports public debate to decide their fate.

Shelly Grail Braudis, recreation manager for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, said removal of the downed wires is a top priority for the Forest Service because of the risk to wildlife. There is also aesthetic value to removing the wires, she said.

She said the poles are abandoned property of CenturyLink, so the Forest Service needs to talk to the communications company about the plans.