Up the Pass, it’s not a mess … it’s a mesh | AspenTimes.com

Up the Pass, it’s not a mess … it’s a mesh

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The newly installed black soil retaing mesh, left on Independance Pass Road is a waiting to be covered over and have flowers and small shrubs planted similar to the right side. Paul Conrad photo.

A big, black Band-Aid covering the injured land at the top of Independence Pass isn’t a permanent feature of the landscape ? soil will soon cover the dark mesh as part of an ongoing slope reconstruction project.

The dark plastic material is a plastic mesh meant to hold topsoil and, eventually, plants on the steep slopes near the Continental Divide. Early next week work crews will be dumping topsoil over the mesh, and finally native vegetation roots will reach through the plastic and into the earth below.

The project at the highest part of the pass, known as the “top cut,” is an attempt to restore vegetation to the land that has been lost from years of erosion. The Independence Pass Foundation, a local nonprofit, is funding the multimillion-dollar reconstruction work.

The plastic being used during this phase of the project was donated by Tenax, the company that manufactures the mesh for land-reclamation projects. Independence Pass Foundation executive director Mark Fuller said the donation saved the foundation $8,000.

“From Tenax’s standpoint, this is a demonstration project we are documenting thoroughly with videotape and still photos,” Fuller said. “They want to see how it works. If it works well, they’ll use it for publicity purposes.”

The fasteners ? U-shaped fiberglass rods ? that will secure the mesh to the hillside were also given to the Pass Foundation at a 75 percent discount by Van Brothers, another reclamation materials company out of Aurora.

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“It’s a high-profile location, in terms of Independence Pass, and being close to Aspen,” Fuller said. “It gets a lot of traffic, and it’s certainly a dramatic setting. If things work out, there will be great before-and-after pictures.”

Fuller said he’s gotten calls from residents wondering if the mesh is permanent, and he’s explained to them that soil and eventually native vegetation will cover the highly-visible black plastic.

“This is the last layer on the cake, as it were,” Fuller said of the vegetation.

Work crews from Buena Vista Correctional Facility have been assisting with the work atop the pass since the first of this month, raking soil on the slopes and laying out the meshing. Next week they’ll be helping with traffic control and planting.

Earlier this summer, heavy machinery restructured the hillside above rock walls that line the highway. Work on the project restoring the “top cut” of Independence Pass is expected to continue at least another five years.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]