Take a trip now and later to towns isolated by rockslide

Keywords: Durango Herald,

As most people in southwestern Colorado are aware, Red Mountain Pass, along U.S. Highway 550, has been closed since Jan. 13 for repairs as the steep cliffs there had rockslides, making the highway impassable. Highway 550 runs north from the New Mexico border up through my entire district as far as Olathe and beyond.

Acknowledging that safety must come first, this is more than an inconvenience in traveling north and south in our area. The road closure has dramatically reduced the winter business of towns like Silverton and Ouray and business owners of hotels, restaurants and ski areas. This is not dissimilar to what Pagosa Springs went through last summer when Highway 160 was closed during the West Fork Complex fires.

The Colorado Department of Transportation realizes this and is hurrying to get the road re-opened. However, the time of year and the inaccessibility of the mountainside make the rockslide repairs especially challenging. I travel this route all the time when covering my district and, while it may surprise some, there are plenty of school buses, semis and passenger cars that traverse the mountains on this road and it must be safe before it’s reopened.

One of the many things I love about our region is the way we pitch in when disaster strikes. In this case, we’re lucky it’s not a wildfire or flood, but Silverton and Ouray need their regional neighbors to help get them through this rough patch.

So, when you go skiing at Durango Mountain Resort, head north for a meal or hotel room in Silverton this time. Valentine’s Day is coming and maybe your special someone would like a trip to Silverton or Ouray to celebrate. Silverton’s annual skijoring festival is coming up and is one of my personal favorites. There’s always skiing at Kendall and Silverton Mountains to brag about and enjoy and there’s no bad time of year to enjoy Ouray’s wonderful hot springs. Winter months give them special warmth. Check out the towns’ chambers of commerce websites for more information on activities and accommodations.

These towns are wonderful and resilient, but, as we say, “you can’t eat the scenery.” Let’s pitch in and take a trip there now or again when the road re-opens. The wonderful CDOT snowplow drivers keep the passes clear and safe for travelers. Tourism is a large part of the economy of so many of the towns in my senate district and these are no exception. The generosity of our region is notable to many and I hope that we can do our best to help these towns and business owners get through this challenge.

Back at the Capitol in Denver, the pace is picking up. I have three bills in their first committee this week. The line-up includes: first, the possible change in method of electing county commissioners in counties with a population of 70,000 or less; second, a bill establishing a new procedure for reinstating parental rights in limited cases with older kids in the foster care system whose parents have demonstrated long term success in rehabilitation; and, third, the bill providing small but immediate death benefits for the families of fallen seasonal wildland firefighters.

All of this in one week, along with regular committee hearings and constituent visitors, means the time will fly by.

Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, represents the 6th District, which includes Durango, in the Colorado Senate. Reach her at the Capitol by phone, (303) 866-2914 or by fax (303)-866-2218; at home by phone (970) 564-0999 or by fax (970) 564-9236; or by e-mail at eroberts@frontier.net.