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Prickly Pear Ice opens in Kremmling

Thanks to a new business in Kremmling, ice and purified water will be more available to stores and individuals. Kremmling business entrepreneur Dakota Docheff-Cordle and her husband Branden Cordle started Prickly Pear Ice, an ice and water dispenser located at the Kremmling Car Wash at 1103 Eagle Ave. 

The business celebrated its grand opening on Saturday, Oct. 22. Docheff-Cordle said this is their only dispensing machine for now, but they hope to open more in the county. 

Customers can fill up their own 1-5 gallon containers with filtered water that’s also been sanitized by ultraviolet light. Prickly Pear also offers 10-pound bags of ice, or customers can fill their own coolers. Docheff-Cordle said she’s glad Prickly Pear opened in time for hunting season, and they plan to operate year-round. Water is 25 cents a gallon and ice is $2.75 for 10 pounds. Cash or cards are accepted. 

Docheff-Cordle, left, helps a customer during Prickly Pear’s grand opening.
Meg Soyars/Sky-Hi News

Mountain Parks Electric seeks entrants for holiday lighting contest

In the classic holiday film National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, patriarch Clark Griswold is determined for his family to have a “hap-hap-happiest Christmas”. He installs 25,000 Christmas lights outside his house to impress his neighbors; instead, he causes a neighborhood-wide blackout. Fortunately, there are no Clark Griswolds in Grand County to cause Christmas blackouts, but there are plenty of spectacular light shows to awe neighbors.

Residents who feel they have a display to rival Griswold’s can enter Mountain Parks Electric’s Holiday Lighting Contest for a chance to win a $300 bill credit. Mountain Parks offers $200 for 2nd prize and $100 for 3rd prize.

People can email photos of their home’s holiday display in Grand or Jackson Counties to memberservices@mpei.com. They can also post a photo in the comments section of Mountain Park’s Facebook post on the contest.

For those who don’t have their own stunning display, they can submit their neighbor’s home to the contest. If their neighbor wins, the submitter wins a $5 bill credit.

Contest Rules

  • Submit a photo of an outdoor lighting display by Facebook or email
  • Don’t list street addresses. When posting in the Facebook comments, only list the town/area the home is located. Example: “Tabernash” or “Grand Lake” or “rural Jackson County”
  • On or before Dec. 23, the Lighting Contest Committee (comprised of local chambers of commerce representatives) will review contest entries and select the winners.

The contest is sponsored by Mountain Parks Electric, the Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce, Hot Sulphur Springs Chamber of Commerce, Kremmling Area Chamber of Commerce, the Winter Park & Fraser Chamber and Destination Granby.

Grand County Real Estate Transactions, Nov.27 to Dec. 3

Real estate transactions totaled $24,938,067 across 23 sales for the week of Nov. 27 to Dec. 3

No address

Vacant land, Lakota Filing 5, Tract G, Lot 2 

Seller: Lakota Land Group LTD

Buyer: Lakota Pointe Winter Park LLC

Price: $10,000,000

No address, Meadows at Grand Park, Fraser

3,860-square-foot, four-bedroom, 4 ½-bath, single-family residence on 0.106 acres of land.

Seller: Grand Park Homes LLC

Buyer: Tami J. Strong Revocable Trust and Lucian S. Strong Revocable Trust

Price: $1,864,109

No address, Apres Winter Park Condominiums, Winter Park.

2,371-square-foot, three-bedroom, 2.75-bath residence on 0.081 acres of land.

Seller: Apres Winterpark LLC

Buyer: Silverwood Investments LP

Price: $1,400,000

467 GCR 835/Brooky Blvd, Fraser

4,600-square-foot, three-bedroom, 2.75-bath, single-family residence on 0.63 acres of land.

Seller: Darren and Sarah Lemorande

Buyer: Josef and Iva Dostal

Price: $1,305,000

1020 Bear Trail, Winter Park

3,042-square-foot, three-bedroom, 3 ½-bath townhome on 0.03 acres of land.

Seller: Kenneth and Elizabeth Sweasy

Buyer: Tanya Korpi

Price: $1,200,000

205 Eisenhower Drive, Fraser

2,418-square-foot, four-bedroom, 2.75-bath, single-family residence on 0.14 acres of land.

Seller: Matthew and Brianna Priebe

Buyer: Ryan Madani

Price: $1,110,000

Timber Fox Condominiums

1,635-square-foot, two-bedroom, 1.75-bath residence on 0.014 acres of land.

Seller: 1111 Enterprises LLC

Buyer: Kenneth and Lisa McCurry

Price: $1,003,400

Timber Fox Condominiums

1,584-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bath residence on 0.013 acres of land.

Seller: 1111 Enterprises LLC

Buyer: Laef Lorton and Steven Medford

Price: $979,900

Timber Fox Condominiums

1,244-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath residence on 0.010 acres of land.

Seller: 1111 Enterprises LLC

Buyer: William and Corrie Metz

Price: $756,400

446 GCR 86/Grandview Circle, Fraser

3,296-square-foot, three-bedroom, 1 ½-bath, single-family residence on 1.39 acres of land.

Seller: Teresa Jurgens, Alicia Wold, Stephen and John Rauenbuehler, Allyne Grenemyer

Buyer: Matthew and Brianna Preiebe

Price: $725,000

193 GCR 702/Village Drive, Beaver Village Condos, Winter Park

1,010-square-foot, two-bedroom, 2.2-bath condo.

Seller: Sundance Vacation Properties Florida LLC

Buyer: Isaac and Sarah Curtis

Price: $599,000

580 Winter Park Drive, Fraser Crossing-Founders Pointe Condominiums, Winter Park

603-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bath condo.

Seller: Sean Martin and Denise Mowry-Martin

Buyer:  Alexis and John Repp

Price: $560,000

36 GCR 838/East Meadow Mile, Meadow Ridge Lodges, Fraser

1,019-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath condo.

Seller: Thomas and Jewel Wegs, Edward and Judith Miksch

Buyer: Nicole and David Stanfill

Price: $550,000

110 Park Avenue, Kremmling

Heins Addition to Kremmling Block 1, Lots 2,4,6,8,10

Seller: Gar Jen Enterprises LLC


Price: $451,000

No address, Kremmling

80 acres of agricultural land, SEC 26-2-79 and 35-2-79.

Seller: Hugh Auchincloss

Buyer: Eli Hemming and Tabor Scholl

Price: $450,000

19 GCR 8400/Meadow Lane, Meadow Ridge Lodges, Fraser

832-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath condo.

Seller: Siobhan and Norman Cook

Buyer: Robert Gentile

Price: $432,500

No address, Hot Sulphur Springs

Longview Addn/Hot Sulphur Springs Block 8, Lots 3-4.

Seller: Habitat for Humanity Grand County

Buyer: Michael Bunker

Price: $261,758

No address, Fraser

3.76 acres of vacant land.

Seller: William and Janna Lloyd

Buyer: Joshua Hadley

Price: $260,000

146 GCR 6236S/Williss Drive, Granby

6.37 acres of vacant residential land.

Seller: Findlay Bel LTD

Buyer: Kelly and Jeffrey Perizzolo

Price: $240,000

267 GCR 8910/Lake Drive, Summit at SilverCreek, Granby

466-square-foot, zero-bedroom, one-bath condo.

Seller: Cathy and Jennifer Russell

Buyer: Christopher and Jessica Fiedler

Price: $225,000

111 GCR 4421, Soda Springs Tennis Club, Grand Lake

703-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bath condo.

Seller: Barton and Jeanette Lone

Buyer: Jessica Lundberg

Price: $220,000

95 GCR 4955/V Court, Grand Lake

1.06 acres of vacant residential land,

Seller: Garold and Marilyn Beemer

Buyer: Victoria Winterschedt

Price: $185,000

215-000220 GCR 4110/Southfork Way, Grand Lake

Vacant land.

Seller: Vivian Denny Revocable Trust

Buyer: Joint Trust of Charles M. Scott and Sara C. Scott

Price: $160,000

It’s open enrollment season, here are expert tips for buying health insurance in Colorado

While it may be the time of year when your home decorations change from turkeys to Santa Clauses, on the health care calendar it is open enrollment season. And that means it is time, once again, for many people in the state to figure out how to buy a health insurance plan.

But don’t fret. We at The Colorado Sun have assembled a massive catalog of tips and resources you can use to find the health care coverage that is right for you. Feel free to scroll through this guide to find the answers you’re looking for or bookmark it for later.

Have a question that we didn’t cover? Email me at johningold@coloradosun.com, and I will try to help you find an answer.

Happy shopping and best of luck.

What’s the deadline for making a decision?

In the individual market, open enrollment lasts until Jan. 15. But, if you want a plan with benefits that kick in on Jan. 1, you must make a choice by Dec. 15.

What is open enrollment?

Open enrollment is the period of the year when you can change health insurance plans. For most people, it comes around only once per year.

If you are covered by an insurance plan through your work, your company sets the open enrollment period. (For state employees, for instance, open enrollment is tied to the end of the fiscal year in June.) For people who buy insurance on their own, open enrollment always lands at the end of the year, as it does for people looking for Medicare Advantage plans.

Where can I go with questions on Medicare?

The State Health Insurance Assistance Program is a federally funded nationwide network of organizations that can help people with questions on accessing and using Medicare. In Colorado, there are SHIP programs in each county. You can find your county’s program, along with a phone number, in this list right here.

The state Division of Insurance also provides some links and tips about Medicare on its website.

I know nothing about health insurance, where should I start?

First, you need to know what market you’re shopping in.

Are you covered by your employers’ health care plan? Look for info from human resources or your benefits provider about your options.

Are you shopping on your own? Then you’re in what’s called the “individual market.” That means you will either be shopping on Connect for Health Colorado or using a broker. Connect for Health is the state’s insurance exchange — think of it like an online shopping platform, Amazon for health insurance plans.

A few years ago, we created a guide for buying a health insurance plan in Colorado. It applies most to people shopping in the individual market and contains tips for navigating Connect for Health. But it also offers some advice from an actuary and a broker on how to gauge what kind of coverage you need, regardless of what market you’re shopping in.

You can read that guide here.

If the language of the insurance world — deductible, copayment, subsidy — is foreign to you, Connect for Health has a handy glossary that provides some definitions. (The glossary is also available in Spanish.)

Is there anything new this year?

If you’re in the individual market, this is the first year you will be able to select a Colorado Option health plan. Colorado Option plans are sold by each insurance company — so Kaiser Permanente has Colorado Option plans, Anthem has Colorado Option plans and so on. But those plans are built on a standard benefit design created by the state government.

The hope is that the Colorado Option will make it easier for people to compare plans. You know what benefits you’re getting, so it’s a matter of choosing a plan at the right price and with the right network of doctors and other medical providers.

“There are more services that are covered with no cost upfront,” said Adam Fox, the deputy director of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, which supported the creation of the Colorado Option. “So particularly routine primary care, behavioral health care, pre- and post-pregnancy care, those services are covered with no additional copay, no cost share.”

But there’s a catch with the Colorado Option plans. While they are supposed to also be priced lower than typical plans, they are most often not the cheapest in terms of premium price. So they may not be the best or most affordable option depending on your particular needs.

I heard about OmniSalud, what is that?

OmniSalud is the other thing that’s new this year. It’s a health insurance program designed specifically for people who are unable to access insurance subsidies because of their immigration status.

Under OmniSalud, it’s the state providing the funding for the subsidies. The money comes from a fee on health insurance premiums, which in turn funds the Colorado Health Insurance Affordability Enterprise, which provides the subsidies.

OmniSalud plans aren’t sold on the usual Connect for Health Colorado insurance exchange. Instead, they are sold on a new exchange called Colorado Connect, though the signup process starts on Connect for Health. The separation means that no information entered on Colorado Connect is shared with the federal government.

For Connect for Health’s Spanish language site, click here.

What are some tips for picking the right plan?

The Colorado Sun hosted a virtual panel discussion on this topic featuring Fox, from CCHI, Connect for Health CEO Kevin Patterson and state Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway.

If you want to watch the whole thing, you can find the video at this link.

But here are some quick tips:

Fox recommended not just shopping for the plan with the lowest-price premium. Those plans often have high deductibles, and if you have more than minimal health care needs, buying the lowest-cost plan could mean paying more in the long run.

“What you’re really talking about when you’re comparing health insurance options is comparing your current medical needs versus what you might anticipate in the coming year, and your comfort with risk financially,” Fox said during the panel. “We really try to encourage consumers to think about, yes, it might be a little bit more in premium (price) to purchase a silver level plan or a gold level plan. But those really provide such better protection for people’s finances. If you do have something happen that is significant, it’s really easy to rack up thousands of dollars in medical costs very quickly.”

Conway encouraged people to check on Connect for Health to see whether they are eligible for federal subsidies that help pay the cost of premiums. The federal American Rescue Plan Act expanded those subsidies to people making more money and the Inflation Reduction Act extended those expanded subsidies.

“If you haven’t shopped on Connect for Health Colorado in the last two years, it’s vital that you go on now because of the increased subsidies that were originally part of the American Rescue Plan,” he said.

Patterson said people shouldn’t hesitate to reach out for help when they get stuck.

“It’s a daunting task if you’re not sure what you’re looking for,” Patterson said. “And so we always encourage people that they can seek out a broker, seek out an assister.”

How do I know when to buy on Connect for Health versus using a helper?

Assisters are people who can help guide you through enrollment via Connect for Health. Brokers can do that, too, but they can also help you buy a plan off-exchange if that’s the best option.

Both are generally free for consumers to use — though be sure to ask a broker about any potential fees.

Connect for Health has look-up tools for both brokers and assisters on its website under the menu heading on the far right of the page that says “We Can Help.” 

If you are eligible for premium subsidies, Connect for Health is the only place where you can obtain them. Brokers, meanwhile, act like agents to find people the best deal based on their needs — whether that plan is on-exchange or off.

“Our job is always to advocate for our clients,” said Meagan Fearing, the president of the Colorado State Association of Health Underwriters, which is a trade group for brokers. “For those who aren’t using a broker, for heaven sakes find a broker and make sure you are making an educated and informed selection.”

The National Association of Health Underwriters also maintains a search tool for finding member brokers. Just be sure to make an appointment quickly. Like accountants at tax time, brokers get booked up pretty fast during open enrollment.

Kremmling hires interim police chief

The town has hired an interim Police Chief, Officer Jesse Lisenby, who assumed the role on Nov. 21. Lisenby is replacing former Police Chief Hiram Rivera Jr., who left the force on Oct. 3.

Lisenby is not a stranger to the Kremmling Police Department. In September 2020, Lisenby applied for the position of Kremmling Police Chief, along with Rivera. Rivera was ultimately chosen as chief; he then hired on Lisenby to join him that December. Lisenby served as an officer until 2021.

“We’re really excited that Jesse is coming back to join us because he has a very community-minded policing mentality,” said Kremmling Town Manager Ashley Macdonald.

Lisenby’s history of police service began with the Beaumont Police Department in Beaumont, Texas. He then went on to become an officer with the Fort Worth Police Department. Lisenby is also a US veteran, having served five years in the Army Special Forces.

“Toward the end of my five-year enlistment, I decided to go into a career in law enforcement. To me, (this job) was just an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Lisenby stated during his interview for the police chief position in 2020.

Lisenby has also described himself as an avid outdoorsman, with a passion for fly-fishing. Lisbeny’s wife, Jennifer, is also a fly-fisher. Kremmling was once a vacation spot for the couple during their excursions to the Colorado River. They decided to make it their home, so Lisenby applied for the Kremmling police department.

Over the past year, the department has seen the departure of two staff members aside from Chief Rivera — code enforcement pfficer Carlos Villegas and officer Kristina Costa. Since Lisenby is a veteran of the Kremmling force, he is expected to bring a sense of stability to the department.

Currently, the town of Kremmling is working with the recuiting and consulting firm KRW Associates to create a job posting for the permanent police chief position. Macdonald said the town plans to have the posting up publicly by January 2023 at the latest.

Lisenby will lead current officers Bryson Hicks and Katherine Stauhs. Stauhs joined the team after finishing police academy in August, then received her badge pinning on Oct. 19. Hicks is a veteran with the department, having served since November 2019.

“We’ll be posting for a third patrol officer around the same time of posting the police chief’s position,” Macdonald added. “It’s definitely important for coverage and making sure that we provide law enforcement response to the community.”

In the meantime, Macdonald said the town is glad to welcome back Lisenby as their interim chief.

“What the board really appreciates about Jesse when he did work for us — and what we’ve had great feedback from the community about — (is) how he engaged the community,” Macdonald said. “He’s going to do a great job.”

Big game habitat seasonal closures begin around Steamboat Springs

As harsh winter weather closes in on wildlife, herds of deer and elk will seek places for shelter. To ensure herds remain undisturbed by humans as they forage for food under snowfall, the US Forest Service has instituted seasonal closures for the animals’ winter range. These closures began on Thursday, Dec. 1, in multiple locations around Steamboat Springs on the Routt National Forest. These closures will last until April 15 in areas where encounters between wildlife and people normally occur.

The Forest Service has closed approximately 12,000 acres on the Routt National Forest to provide a safe winter habitat for deer and elk. This includes trails such as Mad Creek, Red Dirt, Hot Springs and Spring Creek.

In a news release, the Forest Service staff thanked the local community and visitors for an increasingly high level of compliance with the closures in the last few years. According to the Forest Service, better compliance has decreased wildlife conflict and kept herds on their winter range. Since heavy snowfall pushes herds towards lower elevations (and closer to people) these ranges provide pockets of security for the animals.

“Collectively we’ve identified areas critical for wildlife, while maintaining public access for winter recreation on the Forest,” said Michael Woodbridge, a ranger in the Hahns Peak/Bears Ears District. “Public cooperation is the key to ensuring effective closures, so we ask the recreating public to respect the winter closure areas that allow our vulnerable deer and elk herds on the Routt National Forest to survive and prosper into the next year. Sharing information amongst the community and with out-of-area visitors will help us maintain the balance of wildlife and people that we strive for here in the Yampa Valley.”

The U.S. Forest Service has partnered with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to provide these closures for wintering wildlife seeking shelter.

The current closure areas include:


  • Spring Creek Trail 1160
  • Spring Creek Alternate Trail 1160.1A
  • Mad Creek Road 128
  • Mad Creek Trail 1100 (Swamp Park Trail)
  • Red Dirt Trail 1171
  • Hot Springs Trail 1169
  • Foothills south of Steamboat Ski Area to Hwy 40


  • Greenville Mine area (Roads 440 & 471)
  • Coulton Creek area (Trail 1188 & Road 429)
  • Lower Bear Trail 1206
  • Sarvis Creek Trail 1105
  • Silver Creek Trail 1106
  • Areas adjacent to the Radium and Indian Run State Wildlife Areas (Roads 212 & 214)
  • Area north of Toponas off Forest Road 285

Closure signage is posted at trailheads, and maps and brochures are available at area businesses and at the Forest Service office.

Both mandatory and voluntary closures are in place until April 15, 2022.
US Forest Service/Courtesy Image

Some of the closure areas border Steamboat Ski Area, so the resort has included the wildlife winter range closure areas in their ski area trail maps and mandatory closure signs are posted along the ski area operating boundary. 

The public can use the following alternative winter recreation areas on Routt National Forest:  Buffalo Pass, Rabbit Ears Pass, Gore Pass, Lynx Pass, Bear River Corridor (entrance to the Flat Tops) and Dunckley Pass. Other areas include the South Fork Trail (Trail 1100.5A) south of the Elk River and Forest Road 430/Scott Run (Trail 1177).  Another alternate area is located west of Routt County Road 129 at the Hahns Peak Lake Area on Forest Roads 486 and 488.

Other area land managers, such as the City of Steamboat Springs and the Bureau of Land Management, also have seasonal area closures in place that those recreating should be aware of.

Grand Nordic Corner: Snow Mountain Ranch offers almost 75 miles of groomed trails

Snow Mountain Ranch sits on 5,200 acres just off U.S. Highway 40 between Tabernash and Granby. It is a year-round playground offering over 120 kilometers (just shy of 75 miles) of groomed trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, tubing, sleigh rides and other winter outdoor activities as well as mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, disc golf, zip line, climbing and tubing in the summer. Construction of the new buildings for Camp Chief Ouray and the activities center will continue through the winter at the far end of the Nordic Center parking lot compromising access to and many of the old CCO Loops.

Snow Mountain Ranch is considered one of the best-groomed Nordic Centers in the country, and you usually can cross-country ski from mid-November until mid-April. The terrain can accommodate everyone from the first-time skier to the elite racer. Be sure to ski with your dog on the dog-friendly loops next to the Nordic Center — but remember, leashes are required. This year the Nordic Center shop officially opened Nov. 21, but trails have not had enough snow to be officially open. Still, many areas of higher ground are being rolled. Hopefully the storms this week are changing that! Check out the new grooming report on Nordic-Pulse.com/ski-areas for great up-to-the minute information!

The Nordic Center’s full-service ski shop is where you will find great deals on lessons and rental packages. They also have the latest Nordic and snowshoe gear and apparel for sale. To reenergize, visit the Skinny Ski Café, which is scheduled to be open this season, and enjoy a light snack or warm up with a bowl of soup and a sandwich. Learn to ski with one of the ranch’s instructors or rent a chariot and let the rhythm of skiing help put your child to sleep.

A one-year membership for family or individual is $250 or three years for $600 and includes cross-country skiing, sledding, winter tubing and ice skating privileges. A membership also grants access to the swimming pool, basketball court, roller skating and so much more. You can rent cross-country ski equipment as well as performance gear, fat bikes and snowshoes at the Nordic Center. Also, with your membership, you also get discounts on lodging at the YMCA of the Rockies. Regular trail fees for adults are $29 per day but Grand Nordic members receive a 10% discount. Children 12 and under can ski for $14, and children 5 and under ski for free. A five-time punch card that can be shared between family members is available for $110. For details on trail passes, equipment rental and group lessons, visit the website or call 970-887-2152 (extension 4173). The first of two free ski lessons offered by Grand Nordic, including free equipment and trail pass for all Nordic Club members, is offered Sunday, Dec. 11. Signups for the free lessons are now online at Snow Mountain Ranch — go to GrandNordic.org for a direct link.

Following the Snow Mtn Classic Race on Jan. 14, 2023 is the Grand Nordic Ranch2Ranch Trek Feb 11 and 12. On both days, the Trek will start at Snow Mountain Ranch, go over the Fraser to Granby Trail and end at Granby Ranch — you can even ski back. The Trek benefits Kids Nordic skiing in Grand County. The season winds down with the famed Snow Mountain Stampede featuring both classic and skate events on March 11 and 12. Check out YMCARockies.org/nordic-center for details. 

Colorado Biathlon claims Snow Mountain Ranch as their home venue. Rifle certification clinics are held every fall and winter. Several events are held each month starting in December at Snow Mountain Ranch. Check Colorado.Biathlon.org/schedule or call Snow Mountain Ranch Nordic Center 970-887-2152 (extension 4173) for more information. Come out to see the action and learn about biathlon. 

The free Grand Nordic Kids program starts at 1 p.m. Jan. 20 for kids aged 5-10 and runs every Friday (except Feb. 3) ending with the Nordic Festival on Feb 24. Visit the Grand Nordic website or call 970-887-0547 for more information or to register for the Ranch2Ranch Trek.

Winter Park Express train tickets on sale now

The weekend ski train that runs from Denver’s Union Station to Winter Park Resort will start up again Jan. 13, but tickets are on sale now. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through March 26, the Winter Park Express will make 33 roundtrips, with one-way fares from $34 and kids (ages 2-12) fares from $17.

Skis and snowboards travel for free as carry-ons on the two-level train with a cafe and lounge. Tickets are available on Amtrak.com/winterparkexpress. The train is scheduled to leave Denver at 7 a.m. and arrive in Winter Park at 9 a.m. It is scheduled to leave the resort at 4:30 p.m. and arrive at Union Station at 6:40 p.m.

On weekdays, skiers looking to take a train to Winter Park are able to ride Amtrak’s California Zephyr train from Denver to Fraser and ride a shuttle to Winter Park.

Fraser Valley Lions Club and Granby host holiday events

The Fraser Valley Lions Club hosted its Festival of Trees event Friday night while Destination Granby kicked off its Hometown Holidays events with a tree lighting. The Lions’ event featured trees and wreaths decorated by 33 nonprofits and desserts from local restaurants that could be bought through silent auctions as well as food, drinks, Middle Park High School carolers and a visit from Santa.

Granby’s tree lighting ceremony welcomed Granby Elementary’s Minnesingers and offered guests s’mores, hot cocoa and other treats as they watched the tree light up outside the Granby Visitors Center.

Highway closures are a big part of winters in Colorado, but how are those decisions made?

Plow truck drivers for the Colorado Department of Transportation put a significant amount of work into keeping roads open, but because of severe weather or vehicle wrecks, some road closures are unavoidable.

Speaking to the state officials who make these calls, the process for closing and reopening highways and interstates across Colorado requires trust and decisiveness.

Highway closures are done through a collaboration between CDOT, highway patrol officers and local law enforcement, and the decision to close a highway is mostly based on observations by personnel on scene. While CDOT prioritizes keeping the highways open, most closures happen when the risk of accidents is reported to be high. 

“It’s pretty rare for us to close a road, or for a local agency to request that a road be closed, due to just weather,” said Elise Thatcher, a spokesperson for CDOT.

She explained that road closures are typically implemented when incidents create situations where secondary crashes are likely, and those situations are especially dangerous on sections of road with steep grades such as Rabbit Ears Pass. 

A car wreck doesn’t have to slow down traffic much for it to greatly increase the risk of additional crashes, Thatcher added. 

According to federal statistics, for every minute a primary incident continues to be a hazard, the likelihood of a secondary crash increases by 2.8%, and secondary crashes are estimated to cause nearly one in five fatalities on freeways — including first responders. 

About five firefighters, 12 law enforcement officers and more than 50 towing operators are killed nationwide each year while responding to traffic incidents, according to federal statistics. 

“So it’s very important to manage for not having traffic lined up for a long time in one location whenever possible,” Thatcher said. 

When vehicles are lined up in a standstill, transportation officials describe them as “queued,” which is considered among the most dangerous hazards on the highway, especially during winter conditions with poor visibility and slick roads. 

While closures strictly due to the weather aren’t nearly as common, Thatcher said poor visibility during a snowstorm is a major factor and most decisions to close roads due to severe weather are highly collaborative.

Thatcher said virtual meetings, or “weather calls,” happen frequently between members of CDOT and other agencies during big storms. During these calls, they discuss road conditions and make collaborative decisions.

People on scene usually run point in making these decisions. That could be local law enforcement officers, Colorado State Patrol officers or CDOT maintenance crews. 

“We make sure that we’re staying in touch with our partner agencies at as many levels of the organization as possible,” Thatcher said. “That way, when we do have an incident going on, we know the best way to get in touch with the right person.”

And sometimes local law enforcement officers have to make the call to close a road based on what they see. 

“I would say the sheriff’s offices in your area have been great about letting us know what conditions are on the roadway,” Thatcher said. “It’s a real team effort.”

When local law enforcement does decide to close a highway, they communicate the closure to CDOT, which then updates COtrip.com and a corresponding smartphone app. Both the free app and website feature an up-to-date map of road conditions and closures for the entire state. 

“Sometimes, companies will make money off making what looks like an official CDOT app,” Thatcher warned. “So if what you see in your app store requires money, don’t get it.”

Whenever there’s an update on road closures or reopenings, CDOT’s Twitter page sends out a tweet automatically as well. 

As part of a national effort to improve safety during highway incidents, Colorado is participating in the Traffic Incident Management Program. In 2018, the TIM Track was opened in Douglas County. This $1.5 million facility features a paved road meant to replicate a section of an interstate that is used to provide standardized training for managing incidents.  

The TIM program is meant to systematize the methods for managing highway incidents to save time, money and lives through various strategies, including standardizing communications to create a “one scene culture” nationwide. 

But not every agency and first responder in Colorado has undergone the TIM training, especially in rural areas. While traffic incidents make up 25% of the causes for congestion on roads in urban areas, they account for half in rural areas, according to CDOT. 

While the decision to close highways often involves multiple agencies, Thatcher said decisions to reopen roads usually require less coordination and rely mostly on trust among those at the scene. 

“It’s not reopening by committee, if that makes sense,” Thatcher said. “Because the priority is reopening and folks have been trained to assess safety, so that when they decide we can reopen, then we know it’s safe to reopen.”

This story is from SteamboatPilot.com.

Forest services to conduct fire fuel reduction program in December

The Colorado State Forest Service, U.S. Forest Service and Denver Water will work with private landowners to reduce fire fuels on private land across 125 acres east of Fraser. A state forest service press release read the program will start early December and end later this month or in January.

Crews will work Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will use County Road 8 as their route to remove material. The press release alerts residents to use caution along Country Road 8 from County Road 810 to U.S. Highway 40, where they will see an increase in log-hauling trucks.

The project looks to reduce the volume and connectivity of woody fuels to reduce wildfire hazards in the area’s communities and watersheds and make fires more manageable for firefighters.

A 2013 interagency watershed assessment labeled the area as a high-priority watershed of the Upper Colorado River Headwaters. The state forest service has previously completed fuel reduction projects on 572 acres of adjacent private lands.