Foundation seeks funds to complete work on pass | AspenTimes.com

Foundation seeks funds to complete work on pass

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

For eight years, the Independence Pass Foundation has worked to restore the gouged earth where Highway 82 cuts up the final steep climb to the top of the pass east of Aspen. Now, the completion of the group’s ambitious undertaking may be in sight.

The foundation has turned to the general public this holiday season for contributions to a $1.6 million fund-raising campaign that, if successful, would allow the group to complete its work on the “top cut” by 2006, according to Mark Fuller, the foundation’s executive director.

Several thousand people recently received a letter from the foundation detailing its efforts to date and inviting them to contribute to the cause ? make a gift of sorts to future generations who will enjoy the recreational opportunities and natural beauty of the 12,095-foot pass.

A donor who wishes to remain anonymous has pledged $500,000 to the campaign as a challenge grant: The foundation must raise $200,000 a year for five years in order to receive $100,000 a year in annual grants from the donor. The foundation met its goal in 2002 and is now focusing on raising $200,000 for 2003, Fuller said.

The foundation began work on various stretches of the pass in 1990, following on the heels of volunteer work by the Environmental Research Group, founded by longtime Aspenite Bob Lewis, who also founded the Independence Pass Foundation.

In 1995, the foundation directed its focus on the top cut, a daunting project given the steep, eroded slopes above and below the highway. A couple of years ago, the group decided it needed to develop a comprehensive plan and time line for completing the top cut work and raising the necessary money to accomplish it.

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The foundation’s previous approach, Fuller said, was “hoping from one year to the next we would have enough money to do the next chunk.”

With a clearly defined goal, he said, the foundation is hoping donors will have confidence that they’ll see the results of their generosity as they drive up the top cut ? “so they won’t think they’re just throwing money at a project that will never get finished.”

The road over Independence Pass, originally a toll road established in the late 1800s, was reconstructed in its current alignment in 1927. That’s when the top cut was sliced across the high-alpine tundra.

“The eroded areas have been growing ever since,” Fuller said. “We’ve got 75 or 80 years’ worth of erosion we’re trying to erase here.”

If the foundation raises its $200,000 for 2003, work will continue on the rock retaining wall that was partially constructed this year.

Revegetation and the shoring up of the slope below the highway is also planned, along with removal of old, metal snowfencing that was installed at the summit in the 1950s. A helicopter will be necessary for some of the work, Fuller said.

In addition to the wall, this year’s work included the planting of 600 native willows, trees, wildflowers and grass on the hillside.

The foundation works closely with the Colorado Department of Transportation and other contractors, as well as Pitkin County.

For several years, it has also enlisted the help of work crews from the state Department of Corrections facility in Buena Vista to perform some “backbreaking work” in the high-altitude environment.

Once its work on the top cut is done, the foundation has yet more work to do. Smaller cuts across the landscape near Difficult Campground and Taggert Lake are “equally damaged and equally challenging,” though not as massive as the top cut, Fuller said.

“Those would be the next big things we take on,” he said.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]