Grand County among communities exploring the re-opening of Corona Pass
Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand County, CO Colorado
Fourth generation rancher Jim Yust of Kremmling considers Corona Pass, which crosses the Continental Divide, not only a piece of Colorado history, but representative of his own family’s past.
Years ago, on the route created by David Moffat for the Denver Northwestern and Pacific Railway, Jim’s father Ed Yust traveled across the pass in a caboose with his loads of cattle, and his grandmother was once snowbound at Corona in a train.
In later years, after the railroad route became an auto route, Yust would travel over the route with his father for leisurely exploration of Colorado’s most majestic passages.
“I’ve been advocating keeping it open ever since they first opened it in the ’50s,” Yust said. He continues that advocacy on the Rollins Pass Restoration Association.
The 32-mile road that passes through three counties, two U.S. Forest Service districts and federally protected wilderness land can be accessed on either side of the Continental Divide, but users haven’t been able to continue the route to the other side since 1990. The Needles Eye Tunnel in Boulder County was closed off at that time from a rockfall, which caused a Denver man to lose his foot. Boulder County became liable for the injury at a cost of around $85,000.
Since then, Boulder County has been hesitant to repair and reopen the passage due to the liability.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service office on the eastern side has outlined the need for a National Environmental Policy Act study, at an estimated cost of around $750,000, were stakeholders to move forward on repairing the dirt summer route for two-wheel drive vehicles.
Talks about the status of reopening the Rollins (Corona Pass) route from Winter Park to Rollinsville in Gilpin County have sparked interest from Sen. Mark Udall’s staff, who organized a recent meeting between U.S. Forest Service officials and Grand, Gilpin and Boulder county officials.
Grand County commissioners, who along with Gilpin officials advocate repairing the pass, attended the meeting via telephone since they were held up by the March avalanche on Berthoud Pass.
The meeting did not result in a plan to rectify road barriers, according to Boulder officials, but served to outline challenges and concerns standing in the way of reopening the route.
There are those who worry of potential environmental impacts near a protection area, and the risk of motorists exploring land off-trail.
There are also significant costs involved, not only to repair the tunnel, but in liability, grading and road maintenance, said Boulder County Transportation Director George Gerstle.
There are “substantial issues that take time, energy and money to resolve,” said Boulder County Commissioner Ben Pearlman.
At a time when counties, including Boulder, are exploring how to shave budgets, “We’re talking about a big price tag if this were to move forward,” he said.
The proponents on both sides of the pass who would like to see it open again cite the road’s scenic vistas, its capability of attracting tourism to Rollinsville and Winter Park, as well as its glimpse into Colorado’s railroad history.
And, “there aren’t that many places in the high country that handicapped people can get to,” Yust said.
“It’s a historic area, not only for the state of Colorado, but for Grand County,” said Grand County Commissioner James Newberry. “We’re looking to preserve that piece of history.”
Once dubbed the “Hill Route,” the pass served as a temporary railway line from 1904 to 1928. When the Moffat Tunnel was completed, the original Hill Route was abandoned until 1955 when it became an automobile route on the rail bed. The route served as a tourist attraction until a rockfall occurred in 1979 near the north portal of the Needle’s Eye Tunnel. Upon repairs, it reopened in 1987, but collapsed again in 1990.
Travelers on the dirt road then illegally used a forest road to bypass the tunnel, but that road travels through wilderness area and foresters have attempted to keep it blockaded.
The intent of a provision in the 2002 James Peak Wilderness and Protection Area Act was to keep Rollins (Corona) Pass exempted from wilderness designation and to one-day reopen it, Newberry said.
The provision states: “The Secretary (Forest Service) shall provide technical assistance and otherwise cooperate with respect to repairing the Rollins Pass road in those counties sufficiently to allow two-wheel-drive vehicles to travel between Colorado State Highway 119 and U.S. Highway 40.” The provision goes on to say that if the road is repaired and reopened, the Forest Service could then close alternate routes that link to Rollins Pass.
But advocates like Yust don’t see the why the main route would need further environmental studies when, historically, it has always been a transportation line.
“The Boulder district is throwing up every roadblock,” Yust said, “everything conceivable to fight it as hard as they can.”
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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