Idea of connecting Frisco with Wildernest has a long history
SUMMIT COUNTY – As the nascent proposal for a road connecting Frisco to Wildernest slowly gathers steam, it has taken shape as only the newest manifestation of a decades-old idea.
First formulated in the 1970s when Wildernest was originally developed, plans showed three different access points connecting the subdivision to the town, one from the top of Wildernest, one from Wildernest Court and one from Buffalo Drive, all connecting at or near the end of Summit Boulevard near the roundabout exit from Interstate 70.
The current proposal being investigated by local business leaders and officials, who met recently to discuss further action, piggybacks off those beginnings and is looking to the third alternative as a serious possibility for construction.
At the time of Wildernest’s construction, the connection was deemed necessary as an alternative means of egress for residents in case of an emergency. Former county commissioner Don Peterson noted that fire dangers elicited concerns that residents in a fully built-out Wildernest would be unable to evacuate the area.
“The major concern obviously (was) that the upper one-third of Wildernest is trapped up there,” Peterson said.
However, as the overall size of the development was substantially scaled back, the pressing need surrounding alternative access routes subsided and the issue eventually fell to the back burner.
“As the years went by, density was reduced,” said local engineer Gray Pearson, one of the driving forces behind the proposed connection. “It got below a certain breakpoint and the county no longer required the road.”
Nevertheless, questions of the road’s economic and transportation benefits lingered. They remained out of sight until a recent meeting of local business leaders and public officials that was the first to bring new light to the topic in any substantial form.
In its first incarnations, the proposal raised a host of issues ranging from wetlands impact to projected costs and suffered from opposition in Silverthorne, where it was perceived that the project would hurt the town economically.
“There was a faction in the town of Silverthorne that was concerned with the fact that (the road) would drain off people toward Frisco,” said Summit County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom, who supports the new investigations.
Opposition also came from Howard Giberson, a ranch owner whose original 720 acres of land stretching from Ryan Gulch into the current reservoir had been condemned twice before in separate instances. The Denver Water Board condemned the land for reservoir construction and the Colorado Department of Transportation did so again for I-70. Plans for the Frisco-Wildernest connect at the time would have required a similar situation.
The Giberson property is still a contentious issue, though it has since been placed in a conservation easement that was donated to Continental Divide Land Trust.
Current leaders in the push for the road have addressed the Giberson issue by fashioning a route that skirts the property entirely. They believe the Silverthorne issue can be resolved, claiming that it would suffer minimal economic impact.
As it stands, the proposed road would still cut through U.S. Forest Service land and concerns surrounding obtaining a right-of-way abound. It has yet to be determined whether the land would indeed prove attainable in the first place.
Peterson said obtaining permission could be difficult, indicating that it “depends on the mood” of agency officials. He pointed to his experience with former Forest Service Ranger Barry Sheakley, who Peterson claims issued a personal proclamation that a road would go through the land “over his dead body.”
“When Barry said that, that just killed it,” Peterson said.
Current Dillon Ranger District officials declined to comment on any plans until they can review them.
Funding proved another obstacle to such an endeavor.
“At that time it was exorbitantly expensive,” County Commissioner Tom Long said of the previous proposals. “I would doubt it’s gotten any cheaper now.”
Money still proves a primary flash point. In their recent meeting, the leaders of the proposal floated various ideas for funding, including a bond issue, to cover what they estimated would be a $3 million project.
However, not everyone was convinced that it would be such an easy sell, with some participants indicating possible disagreements between who should shoulder the brunt of financial responsibility, Frisco or Wildernest.
Summit County Engineer Ric Pocius said that, theoretically, the project was feasible but it depended on particular aspects of the proposed project such as the possible need for bridges, which alone could cost a “couple million dollars.”
“Bottom line is yeah, it can be built,” said Pocius. “You just need the money.”
In the midst of all this, everyone involved made it apparent that plans for the road remain in their infancy. Bob Starekow, owner of Silverheels at the Ore House and the Frisco businessman spearheading the proposed road, said it was still too early in the process to resolve many of the past concerns, as many of the proposed ideas have yet to fully crystallize.
“I think unfortunately people get worried about nonexistent issues and things that will come up that we don’t have any control over, such as funding and how this might impact the lands,” he said.
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