Closure of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon helps some cities while hurting others

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“It’s so thin,” Pierre said of the relatively narrow roads he had taken. “And soft shoulders and all that.” And the wind. It’s so much to deal with, man.

He said he saw no warning sign of I-70 closing as he passed through Utah and western Colorado. (The CDOT recommends large platforms take Interstate 80 through Wyoming if they can.) He said he went too far into Glenwood Springs and after being pulled over by police he had to make a tricky maneuver to turn around.

“I was stuck, like, all day yesterday,” he said. “I spent about four and a half hours just to find a way. Because I had no service. Even my GPS broke. Had to stop and find a local store to get a map.

Many gas stations along the detour route are not equipped to handle semi-trailers, Pierre said. It hit Kremmling just before it ran out of fuel, he said.

“I was like, ‘Thank God,’” said Pierre.

The longer commute costs Peter and businesses across the state and country time and money. But other drivers are taking advantage.

Noah Marijampol was driving from Los Angeles to his home near New York in his 1990 Volvo nicknamed “Lola”. He had planned to stick to the freeways, but said he instead had a great time hiking the Flat Top Mountain Range and along the Yampa River.

“It was a nice detour,” he said. “Steamboat Springs is a place I never would have found myself. “

Some Kremmling businesses have seen sales increase since closing I-70 through Glenwood last week

“You can certainly tell that a lot of people don’t necessarily try to come this way,” said Madison Jump, a waitress at Moose Cafe. “They will ask, ‘What city am I in? Where am I? “”

Red Waldron, owner of Blue Valley Spirits Distillery, said their small tasting room was already occupied before closing.

“We’re starting to get a lot more stop traffic,” he said. “People we don’t normally see. “

Randy Thornton, the owner of the Main Street View gift shop, said he hasn’t seen many bumps in business yet.

“These people want to go somewhere else, which you can understand,” he said. “But maybe they’ll remember our little town and come back someday.”

Canyon closure resulted in a 50% drop in tourism to Glenwood Springs

That figure holds true for Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, a family-friendly destination so high above the city that it’s only accessible by gondola. General manager Nancy Heard explained that attendance had been strong this summer – until last week, that is.

“This is a really big bite of our business, and as well as I’m sure the whole city,” she said.

Stina Sieg / CPR News
Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, and all of Glenwood Springs, doesn’t just deal with closing I-70 into the canyon. Many map telephony apps mistakenly tell visitors from the west that they also have to make a detour of several hours. To be clear: Eastbound I-70 is open via Rifle and can take traffic directly into the Roaring Fork Valley.

She was sitting in a sort of amusement park watchtower, overlooking the many folds of green mountains that surrounded the city. In 2020, the threat of COVID-19 closed the park for three months. Later that same year, the dangerously close burning fire forced an additional two-week shutdown. It was supposed to be the summer when things would get back to normal.

The thought makes Heard laugh now.

“We almost made it, you know? ” she said. “It’s almost Labor Day and then it happens.”

The problem is not just a long detour for drivers in the east, including Denver. Many online maps mistakenly tell drivers in the west that I-70 is closed in Rifle and that they also have to detour for hours. To be clear, that’s not true, and people can continue from Rifle to Glenwood and the rest of the Roaring Fork Valley, despite there being no sign telling them to.

Some drivers also found themselves headed into a maze of unimproved back roads as their map applications went haywire. Lydia Gonzalez, from Santa Fe, experienced this when she typed her cabin address into Google Maps.

“They say I have to go back two and a half hours back to take the tour,” she said, grinning at the absurdity.

The actual journey time was 15 minutes.

Even with wrong directions and road closures, people still drive to Glenwood – but not so much

In town, several buses a day depart from Glenwood Adventure Company for rafting. As Victor Simon of Louisiana with his family awaited their trip, he said, yes, they heard about the mudslides.

“But we were like, ‘Well, we’re going, no matter what. We will see what happens, ”he explained.

“We were going to make it an adventure,” added her mother, Phyllis, in a rich southern drawl. “We really were.”

So far it’s been an adventure – even the detour it took to get there.

“I love it here,” she continued. “It is so beautiful.”

Stina Sieg / CPR News
The closure of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon has hurt businesses in nearby Glenwood Springs. At Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, attendance fell about 50% after mudslides blocked the road Thursday night.

Outfit owner Ken Murphy is banking on that fear. Since the canyon closed, it has lost about 70% of its reservations. He hopes that will change as he will be able to talk to potential clients about the situation. Murphy, whose livelihood has depended on the canyon in one way or another for decades, explained that he hopes its closure will give his community a chance to market all of its other great amenities.

“There are other things to do, other hikes to do, other rafting trips to do,” he said, “so this is what sets us apart from other areas.”

While an indefinite canyon closure wasn’t what nobody wanted, Murphy and the rest of the local business community were preparing for it, always aware that these slips could happen.

Heard, along with Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, solemnly joked that the Grizzly Creek fire was the “gift that never ceases to give.”

And as devastating as it can be, she sees these little crowds as a draw and invites people to come and see the “Silver Lining” for themselves.

“And we will welcome you with open arms,” she said.

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