Independence Pass restoration continues up top and at base |

Independence Pass restoration continues up top and at base

Aspen Times staff report
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Courtesy of the Independence Pass Foundation

ASPEN – Ongoing restoration efforts on Independence Pass this year focused on hazards sticking out of the tundra at its summit and hazards falling onto Highway 82 at its base, southeast of Aspen.

Rebar removal and an ambitious hydroseeding project were among the projects spearheaded by the Independence Pass Foundation, which has led a multiyear effort to restore damaged areas along the scenic drive.

The hydroseeding took place at the so-called Tagert Cut, just east of the winter gate outside Aspen. The area is unstable and prone to falling rocks; concrete barriers line the pavement to keep some of the material from sloughing off onto the highway. The hydroseeding project is aimed at getting native vegetation to grow on the barren soil, which angles sharply upward above the highway. The goal is providing some stability to the slope.

The hydroseeding was done for about 1,000 feet along the easternmost portion of the cut. The material includes compost, fertilizer, mulch and a native grass seed mix sprayed upward onto the dirt. Compost from the Pitkin County landfill in one section of the project provided an experimental comparison between composted and noncomposted areas.

The foundation will evaluate the results of this year’s $4,350 effort in 2012 and decide if further hydroseed applications are warranted along the Tagert Cut.

A very different project took place at the top of the pass, where the foundation had been working on the removal of more than 30 tons of old snow fencing from the tundra – an effort that required the use of a helicopter in 2009 and 2010.

This year the foundation, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, set about cleaning out smaller pieces of leftover material which posed a hazard to hikers and skiers on the pass. Thousands of pieces of rebar and miscellaneous debris, used to anchor and stabilize the old snow fence, were pulled out of the tundra and stockpiled for later removal by Forest Service pack animals.

Using a specially designed jack, inmate crews from the Buena Vista Correctional Facility helped lever out the metal or, in some cases, to cut it off below ground level and bury it. Some of the rebar stuck up a foot or more from the ground, creating a serious hazard for unwary hikers or skiers on the ridge to the southwest of the pass summit, according to Mark Fuller, the foundation’s director.

The ridge is a popular hiking and skiing destination, and the removal of the metal stakes was a high priority for both safety and aesthetic reasons, he said. The Leadville Ranger District of the Pike-San Isabel National Forest provided tools and manpower for the work.

“These projects will result in a safer, more beautiful and a greener Independence Pass,” Fuller said in a press release. “We have been working on both stabilization and tundra cleanup for many years and this year’s projects represent significant steps toward completing these projects.”

Some rebar remains to be extracted from more remote areas at the summit, but this year’s work cleared the hazards from the most heavily used areas, according to Fuller.

Elsewhere on the pass, inmates helped improve the area at the Upper Lost Man trailhead, Aspen Middle School students helped revegetate areas near the winter gate, and Aspen Country Day School students planted trees near the mill site at the Independence ghost town.

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