Independence Pass plan ready for public review | AspenTimes.com

Independence Pass plan ready for public review

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Proposed changes at the summit of Independence Pass, including a reconfigured parking area, improvements to the walkway that leads to a scenic overlook, a wind shelter and other features will be the focus of a public open house Wednesday in Aspen.

Bluegreen, an Aspen planning and landscape architecture studio, has been working on a management plan for the Top of the Rockies National Scenic and Historic Byway on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service and the byway’s board of directors. The 40-mile segment between Aspen and Twin Lakes is part of that corridor, and the 12,095-foot summit of Independence Pass is the focus of an interpretive management plan – an effort to design features that could be replicated elsewhere along the greater byway.

Forty locales have been identified as interpretive sites on the 115-mile byway, which stretches from Aspen to Leadville, and then to both Minturn and Copper Mountain.

After seeking ideas in June from the public and such entities as the byway directors, Forest Service, Aspen Historical Society and Colorado Department of Transportation, Bluegreen is ready to display its draft interpretive plan for Independence Pass. The open house takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday on the third floor at the Aspen fire station, 420 E. Hopkins Ave.

The input last summer has resulted in a proposed site layout that, for starters, does away with the existing, chaotic parking arrangement at the summit, said Bluegreen associate Ryan Vugteveen. Currently, travelers pull directly off Highway 82 into a large parking lot that only designates parking along one edge.

“It’s kind of a free-for-all,” Vugteveen said.

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The plans call for shifting the highway slightly to the north, opposite the parking area, using a wide shoulder that already exists. The move provides more room to the south to create a one-way, looped parking lot instead of one long stretch where motorists can pull off anywhere, from either direction.

The iconic Independence Pass sign, where visitors frequently pose for photos, would be moved farther away from the roadway, and situated to best take advantage of the scenic backdrop.

Two unisex bathrooms, built at the summit several years ago, would be incorporated into a sheltered area. The shelter would be part of a plaza that creates a place for unobtrusive interpretive signs offering information about the ecology and history of the area, as well as the significance of the spot’s location on the Continental Divide. The designs call for a low wall to keep visitors from stepping out into the tundra. Currently, a chain is strung between wooden posts at the edge of the parking area.

“People walk on the tundra. There’s really nothing that explains how sensitive that environment is,” Vugteveen said.

The walkway from the summit to an existing overlook, offering views south to the Collegiate Peaks and beyond, would see surface improvements and a shelter with benches about halfway from the parking area to the overlook. The shelter would offer additional interpretive signs.

In addition, the site plan envisions a second overlook to the east that is a shorter walk from the plaza.

“For people from Aspen, the walk from the parking lot to the primary overlook is not a big deal,” Vugteveen said. But at that elevation, it is daunting for the infirm, he said.

All of the proposed improvements will be described in greater detail Wednesday, and the public’s input is again welcome, Vugteveen said.

“This is all part of the process,” he said. “Some people will think it’s a great idea. Some people may not think it’s a good idea.”

For more information, go to http://www.topoftherockiesbyway.org and click on the link that reads: “Find out more about the Top of the Rockies National and Historic Byway Update Project.”

Independence Pass, which is not open to travel during the winter, is scheduled to close Nov. 7 unless an early onset of winter forces an earlier closure.

janet@aspentimes.com