Mid-June at the earliest
It’s the long road home for a few more weeks for those going out of town.
Kebler and Cottonwood passes won’t open in time for Memorial Day weekend traffic and may not open until mid-June or later.
Gunnison County assistant manager Marlene Crosby says opening the passes depends on two items—snow levels and the weather.
Right now, Crosby says melting snow and rising rivers have the county’s full attention and the county has put all resources on hold to protect infrastructure from high water.
Once the high water subsides, Crosby says, the county can divert its attention to opening the passes, popularly perceived as one of the hallmarks of the beginning of summer.
“We have infrastructure that we need to keep under control,” Crosby says. “I’ll have to feel pretty secure about that before being able to deal with other issues.”
While in recent low-snow years both passes have been open by Memorial Day Weekend, that hasn’t been a given. Crosby says according to county records, Cottonwood Pass didn’t open until June 15 in 1993 and Kebler Pass opened on June 22 the same year. Two years later, Kebler Pass didn’t open until June 30. Crosby didn’t have a date for Cottonwood Pass opening that year.
In addition, Crosby says, it makes good environmental sense to wait until snow has melted down off the passes. First, she says, a piece of equipment pushing snow hard can burn $200 in diesel each day. “It’s a radically different issue to push through three feet of snow, opposed to eight to nine feet of snow,” Crosby says, noting that the snow on both passes is often packed due to winter snowmobile traffic.
Crosby also says the county considers what kinds of environmental impact traffic may have on lands that people access off the roads. “We look at ‘Are we creating a tunnel?’ Does that make a lot of sense?” she says. “Typically when you open a road, people might try to use areas like Lake Irwin or Horseranch Park that are muddy or have too much snow to accept that much use.”
Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce director Christi Matthews says the passes’ continued closure will likely have an impact on early summer traffic, particularly as gas prices rise and people are hesitant to drive extra miles to get to Crested Butte. “If it continues much beyond the second week in June, then we might feel more pain,” she says.
Matthews’ primary concern is seeing Cottonwood Pass open in time for the Ride the Rockies bicycling event, which will be in Crested Butte from June 18 to June 20. The tour is scheduled to go over Cottonwood Pass to Buena Vista on June 20.
Crosby is well aware of the event and is in touch with Ride the Rockies organizers to keep them apprised of the road’s condition. “I understand that they’re many (bicyclists) who would rather take the road in poor condition than go the longer route (over Monarch Pass),” she says of the unpaved road. In any case, Crosby says, “I don’t think it will be in as good as condition as it has been previously.”
County Road 12 goes over Kebler Pass and connects Crested Butte with Marble and Paonia. County Road 209 utilizes Cottonwood Pass, which connects Taylor Park to Buena Vista.
Crosby still hopes Mother Nature will pull through to ensure a timely opening of the passes. “Mother Nature does a way better job than we do, so I’m supportive of letting her work,” Crosby says.