Officials eye preemptive I-70 closures through Glenwood Canyon if mudslide warnings threaten safe travel

Work also begins on Hanging Lake primitive trail this week after debris flows destroyed main trail last summer

Ike Fredregill
Post Independent
Colorado Department of Transportation Chief Engineer Steve Harelson speaks to members of the media at Tuesday's press conference providing an update on preparations for spring, summer season in Glenwood Canyon.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Repairing Glenwood Canyon, Interstate-70 and mitigating future debris flow damages has cost state, federal and local governments about $27 million so far, a Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson said.

Joined by partnering agencies, CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew briefed media outlets Tuesday on efforts to repair the damage done to Glenwood Canyon by wildfires and historic debris flows in recent years.

“This is an ongoing process, and there’s a lot of work still to be done,” Lew said. “But our crews and contractors met the deadlines they set for this spring.”

Colorado Emergency Management Director Michael Willis said his staff are monitoring the situation in Glenwood Canyon year-round, and he urged travelers to be conscious of the many potential hazards.

“Please don’t be complacent while traveling Glenwood Canyon,” Willis said. “Plan ahead, tune into the emergency broadcast channels and know what you’re getting into.”

Todd Blake, CDOT Deputy Maintenance Superintendent, echoed Willis’ plea for travelers to plan their trips, adding updated road conditions could be viewed at

This summer, CDOT will be working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to determine whether the canyon will remain open ahead of potential significant rain events above the Grizzly Creek burn scar.

When NOAA issues watches or warnings about potential debris flow events, Blake said CDOT will close rest areas and the Glenwood Canyon Recreation Path.

If NOAA issues a watch, CDOT staff will head out to closure points along I-70, and should a warning be issued, Blake said the canyon would be closed for the duration of the warning.

Mudslides in July 2021 prompted an extended safety closure on I-70 for approximately two weeks, a news release states. CDOT crews worked around the clock to remove boulders, dirt, rocks and other debris from the highway. Road repairs were completed in December 2021, though work continues on I-70 throughout the canyon.

CDOT contractors Lawrence Construction and IHC Scott continue to remove material from the Colorado River at six locations throughout the canyon. More than 200,000 tons have been removed so far, CDOT Resident Engineer Andrew Knapp said.

“We’re watching the weather closely as work continues,” Knapp added.

In addition to debris removal, CDOT is working with contractors and the U.S. Forest Service to build debris flow catchment fences, nicknamed “bathtubs,” alongside the roadways.

The bathtubs create a basin where excess debris and water can collect during future events, minimizing impacts to the interstate and travelers, Knapp explained.

Federal Highway Administration state division administrator John Cater praised CDOT’s efforts to prevent flood damage to a command center located within the Glenwood Canyon tunnels as well as the interagency partnerships formed to address the challenges that have arisen in the canyon since the Grizzly Creek Fire in 2020.

“It takes a team to solve the problems we have out here,” Cater said.

In the event of future closures, CDOT Chief Engineer Steve Harelson said CDOT, Garfield County and other agencies were exploring alternative routes, such as Cottonwood Pass, but he acknowledged that the road’s current state is not fit for interstate traffic.

While the pass will remain a county road, both Harelson and Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky acknowledged its potential to be improved, creating an alternate route west through the Rockies, albeit for emergency purposes only.

Work is also expected to begin shortly on a primitive trail to Hanging Lake, Forest Service spokesperson David Boyd said.

While the lake itself was spared by the debris flow events, the trail leading to the pristine woodland attraction was all but eliminated. Boyd said a trail reconstruction project is planned to begin Friday, which could install a primitive trail leading to the lake by mid-summer.

The Forest Service is also working in conjunction with Glenwood Springs and local tourism groups on plans to build a new and improved trail to Hanging Lake, with the idea it could survive 50-100 years, Boyd said. Work on the long-term trail, however, is not slated to begin soon.

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