Popular Reservoir to reopen by Memorial Day
by Rick Langenberg:
Woodland Park and Teller residents this summer can’t expect any alternative shortcuts, when trying to avoid potential Hwy. 24 traffic jams or short-term closures, while traveling to and from Colorado Springs. But recreation and boating buffs can soon travel to one of their favorite spots.
In a slight blow to local officials, the U.S. Forest Service has denied the request of Woodland Park City Manager David Buttery and Public Works Director Bill Alspach by deciding not to reopen Rampart Range Road between Woodland Park and Colorado Springs. The road, though, will open shortly between Woodland Park and Rampart Reservoir.
Still, this announcement runs counter to the prediction of city officials, who appeared quite confident last February during a post-Waldo Canyon fire public meeting that this route would reopen as a potential alternative. The route has been shut down in the wake of the state’s most devastating fire last summer. This indefinite road closure has posed a big concern among residents and business owners, especially with an area plagued by limited access and escape points in case of fires, floods or natural disasters.
City elected leaders and officials have cited this corridor as vital to the community’s interests and safety. “We really need to reopen that road,” said Alspach, during a previous meeting in February. “We think it is critical,” added Buttery. Officials have mentioned Rampart’s higher terrain as a good alternative for motorists, if the main highway gets shut down from rain storms and potential floods.
But the feds don’t believe the current condition of the road would serve as a viable alternative.
The U.S. Forest Service has determined that the road has incurred too much damage associated from the Waldo Canyon fire. They have cited the need to vegetate burned out slopes and deal with an overabundance of dead trees and grapple with the threat of floods.
But in a slight compromise, the Forest Service has agreed to reopen a small section of Rampart Range Road between Woodland Park and the popular Rampart Reservoir. This will provide a big recreational plus for the region, especially with the announced closure of Antero Reservoir.
Also, the Forest Service has agreed to possibly open up the entire route on a limited basis, if U.S. Hwy. 24 incurs a long-term closure, impacting travel between Woodland Park and Colorado Springs. However, details regarding that type of emergency scenario are still somewhat sketchy.
Woodland Park Mayor Dave Turley has greeted the news with mixed sentiments. “I personally am pretty satisfied with that decision,” said the mayor. But he notes that some local officials would like to see more of a green light stance towards reopening this corridor, with the lingering threat of floods and associated traffic delays.
In an interview last week, the mayor said he is more concerned about opening a dialogue with the U.S. Forest Service and other entities in regards to establishing disaster-related planning. To date, he said Woodland Park has taken more of a sideline role regarding the slew of public meetings regarding current mitigation plans for the lower Ute Pass and Colorado Springs for properties impacted by the Waldo Canyon burn scar. But he conceded that scenario will change shortly. “We all want to make sure we are all on the same page,” said Turley, “We are upstream (from the Waldo Canyon burn area). We aren’t in the direct line of impacts. But what happens to that highway (U.S. Hwy. 24) is critical to Teller County. We want to be in the plans if that road would get closed.”
However, as someone who toured Rampart Range Road, Turley said he understands the Forest Service’s reluctance about reopening this route.
Teller County Commission Chairman Dave Paul echoed similar views. “I don’t think Rampart Range Road will solve that problem,” said Paul, when addressing the situation with alternate transportation routes due to potential flooding this summer and fall and other mitigation projects, at last week’s commissioners meeting. Like the Woodland Park mayor, he cited the current condition of the road as a definite problem and said he supports the current stand of the Forest Service.
Instead, Turley said the city does want to get engaged in more of the disaster planning sessions, which kicked off last week. The forums, sponsored by the El Paso County government, also will feature two meeting in Manitou Springs on April 15 and April 24. Another meeting is scheduled in Colorado Springs at Glen Eyrie, 3820 No. 30th Street in Colorado Springs, part of an area that will be part of a heavy flood watch. The forums are designed to give impacted residents and property owners in and around the Waldo Canyon burn area more information in making evacuation and emergency plans, obtaining insurance, grants and receiving updates.
Also, a business disaster preparedness forum is being sponsored by Park State Bank & Trust, the city of Colorado Springs, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and other entities on April 23 at the Gold Hill Theatre in Woodland Park(see related story).
Although Woodland Park isn’t directly impacted by the floods, the potential of highway closures has local business operators and city leaders quite nervous. During last year’s Waldo Canyon fire, the region got pounded economically from the blaze and the week and a half closure of Hwy. 24. The other viable alternatives to reach Colorado Springs involved a nearly two-hour one-way trip by traveling towards Canon City or Denver.
Limited access was cited as one of the main problems in evaluating the region’s response to the Waldo Canyon fire.