Proposal aims to open Rollins Pass to off-road vehicles
A proposal from a number of off-roading groups is rekindling Grand County’s interest in opening a motorized route over the historic Rollins Pass.
Also known as Corona Pass, this pass connected Rollinsville to Winter Park. The majority of the route is open to motorized use except for a trestle east of the pass and the Needle’s Eye Tunnel, which was closed by Boulder County and the US Forest Service in 1990 after a collapse.
The Boulder Wagon Road also utilizes Rollins Pass, but bypasses Needle’s Eye Tunnel. That road was closed to the public in the early 1970s due to damage concerns. Because of these closures, there has not been a continuous motorized route open over Rollins Pass for the last 30 years.
A joint letter representing the Colorado Offroad Trail Defenders, Mile Hi Jeep Club and Rollins Pass Restoration Association to the US Forest Service’s Boulder Ranger District proposes bypassing the Needle’s Eye Tunnel and reopening the Boulder Wagon Road, also known as NFSR 501.1, to public motorized travel.
“Both sides of the pass are open to vehicles, but not the short distance between them, forcing motorists to drive (approximately) 90 miles around on highways to reach the other side,” the groups said in a letter to the Boulder Ranger District.
Grand County commissioners expressed their support for the proposal on Tuesday, but opening the 1.6 miles of road comes with a contentious history of the diverging interests of Grand County, Boulder County and Gilpin County officials.
Currently, the portion of Rollins Pass in Grand County is open to recreation and vehicles up to the tunnel. Boulder County officials have been reluctant to open their portion of the pass due to cost and safety issues, despite requests in the past from Gilpin and Grand officials. Gilpin’s portion of the pass is also closed.
The letter from the off-roading groups mapped the route for Boulder Wagon Road, which splits off into several paths.
“While the Forest Service will have to determine the best path through this section, it is clear from these images that the original pathway straight up the ridge still exists as a viable route on the ground,” the letter said.
The letter argues that reopening the Boulder Wagon Road would require little more than some paperwork by the Forest Service, the removal or opening of the gate near Yankee Doodle Lake and the installation of proper signage, which the groups offered to provide.
While this route was closed due to resource damage concerns in the ‘70s, the letter-writers believe any damage has since been restored.
“We are willing to adopt this road and perform all necessary maintenance to mitigate against any future resource damage, harm to the natural gas pipeline, or motorized incursions into the adjacent Wilderness Area,” the letter added.
The group also offered funding from their respective organizations as well as possible grants from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Off Highway Vehicles Funds or the Great American Outdoors Act.
County commissioners expressed support for the proposal, adding that off-roading groups have been successful with stewarding a number of motorized trails in other places. Additionally, commissioners felt that current closures are actually more harmful to the environment.
“What’s going on there now is actually more detrimental because people are making their own roads,” Commissioner Merrit Linke said. “(The Forest Service) wants to protect the environment, which I get and I support, but it’s not working when we just turn our heads away from it and ignore it.”
Commissioner Rich Cimino suggested that the county explore legal options to further push for an opening, worrying that the proposal would be ignored.
“It’s going to fall on deaf ears,” Cimino said. “… Our colleagues in Boulder County and Gilpin County are, unfortunately, adamantly opposed to removing those barricades.”
Cimino cited the James Peak Wilderness and Protection Area Act, signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, which states that Grand, Boulder or Gilpin counties could request the federal government repair the Rollins Pass road to allow two-wheel-drive vehicles to travel through the area. The commissioner wondered if the county might be able to leverage the requirement, which he said is currently not being met.
The letter also noted that the legislation designating the surrounding wilderness areas specifically excluded the Boulder Wagon Road “to allow for continued motorized use of this route.”
Along with sending a letter of support for this proposal, commissioners asked the county attorney to research Grand’s legal options related to the James Peak Wilderness Act. Commissioners said they hope to reopen the dialogue with Boulder, Gilpin and Forest Service officials about Rollins Pass.
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