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Fishermen to lose access

Allyn Harvey

Fishing along one of the most popular stretches of the Roaring Fork River will be a lot more difficult starting in April, when the state plans to close access in Snowmass Canyon from Highway 82 to the river.

“Highway 82 in Snowmass Canyon is going to become a construction zone. As soon as you get out of your car there, you’ll need to be wearing a hard hat and steel-toed boots,” said Ralph Trapani, Highway 82 project manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The closure could last more than four years, the length of time it will take to widen the 3.5-mile stretch of highway from two to four lanes. Trapani said the project will have no effect on access from Lower River Road, which parallels the highway on the other side of the river.

“It’s going to be hard,” said Rob Kolanda, manager of Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Aspen. “Whenever you shut something like that down, it forces the pressure elsewhere.”

Kolanda and others who sell guided fishing tours say the loss of access won’t affect business too much, however. The float trips they take their clients on are conducted further downstream, where the river is wider and deeper. And on the upper Roaring Fork, where access requires a pair of waders, there are more enticing stretches than the one through Snowmass Canyon.

“It could be worse,” Kolanda said. “There are much better sections of stream that could be closed.”

On most summer evenings, however, a half-dozen or more cars and sport utility vehicles are parked in the tiny pullouts between the highway and the river bank. Down in the river, the vehicle owners can be seen in the middle of the current, casting lines toward tiny pools and eddies behind rocks and along the far bank.

“The nicest thing about that stretch is that guys can stop on the way home from work and cast a line,” Kolanda said.

Art Rowell, manager of Frying Pan Anglers in Basalt, also said the closure would have little effect on business. He said there is enough access from Lower River Road to make fishing in the canyon feasible. The only time the highway side of the river will be completely inaccessible is during spring runoff, when the water runs too high to wade across.

“If you do a little exploring on that side of the river, you’ll find a few ways to get in,” Rowell said. He suggests using a map of the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan rivers that points out all the public access points.

“The closure makes sense. You don’t want civilians in there; you don’t want anyone hurt,” Rowell said.

“Yeah, you could say Highway 82 might be closed for four and a half years – that’s the worst case scenario,” Trapani said. “A more realistic scenario is we work with the contractor to see if there is a possibility of opening up sections as the work progresses. The Department of Transportation wants to provide access wherever possible.”

Trapani said the idea of fishermen parking on the side of the road isn’t feasible once the construction schedule picks up this spring.

Every day starting in April, from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., downvalley traffic will be diverted to Lower River Road. Upvalley traffic will be shifted to the lane closest to the river, the one normally used by downvalley traffic. And the hillside lane will become the exclusive domain of the contractor and his crews until 3:30 p.m., when both lanes of Highway 82 will be opened for rush hour and evening traffic.

Trapani said the next few years will be spent building the new upvalley lanes. Once finished, they will be opened to traffic traveling both directions, and construction will begin on new downvalley lanes.

“Once they begin work on the downvalley lanes and they are all ripped up, there’s no way we can allow access to the river,” Trapani said.

But there is some hope. The contractor has made it clear to CDOT that he is shooting to finish the job a year early, in November 2004, and collect the hefty bonus that CDOT has offered for early completion. And once everything is finished, there will be a pull-out in the downvalley lanes near the top of the canyon.

Besides, adds Kolanda, three or four years without much fishing will give the trout plenty of time to grow into trophy-sized catches. “That’s the flip side of it all,” he said.


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