The beauty of a rough road |

The beauty of a rough road

ASPEN Most Aspenites know of the Independence Pass Foundation through its annual ride, coming up Saturday, Ride for the Pass. The 10-mile bicycle ride with 2,000-foot elevation gain has brought the community together for years as a local start to summer. The ride brings in roughly $20,000 each year, only a tiny fraction of the more than $500,000 budget of the Independence Pass Foundation. “It gives the local community the ability to make a direct contribution to the infrastructure of the pass,” said Executive Director Mark Fuller. “It’s fun and it allows people to experience the pass in something other than a car.” Fuller and other members of the board see highly eroded and unstable slopes and realize a whole lot of expensive work needs to be done. “We stop at actual road repair,” Fuller said. “We communicate with CDOT on those, but we don’t do those.”

The biggest project during the past few years has been on what is known as the “top cut,” an area near the top of the pass that the Foundation has poured nearly $1.5 million into over the last five years. Board member Bob Camp said the road is out of date and has a large amount of damage that needs to be fixed on either side of the highway. In a sense, the foundation is trying to undo what shouldn’t have been done to begin with, he said.The top cut was the focus of a capital campaign funded by a $100,000-a-year anonymous donation that needed to be matched with $200,000 each year in other fundraising. A big chunk often comes in the form of state grants because of a close relationship with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT).The foundation also works on smaller projects: planting trees, adding mulch, restoring rock walls and improving stabilization along roadsides. Much of the easy work has been done by volunteers in past years, so now there is mainly heavier lifting.These days, the vast majority of volunteer work on the pass – nearly all of the heavy lifting – is done by inmates from the Buena Vista Correctional Facility. For example, convicts planted 1,900 of the 2,150 lodgepole seedlings planted in 2006. After mostly finishing the top cut project, the foundation is looking ahead at two other cuts that would likely approach the same cost. One project is near Difficult Campground and the other is just above the winter gate. In both places, significant erosion puts the road in danger. The future of the foundation is up in the air, however, since Independence Pass became part of the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway this year.That group, of which Fuller is a board member, has significant resources for many of the projects the Independence Pass Foundation is interested in. A prime argument against becoming part of the byway designation was that it would attract more people, but overall, the board is excited about what they see as forward progress. “It makes us part of a large whole,” Fuller said. “It will be a while before we know what the real results are.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is

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