Summit County’s recreation path between Frisco and Copper Mountain may not open until July |

Summit County’s recreation path between Frisco and Copper Mountain may not open until July

A portion of the Tenmile Canyon recreation path buried under avalanche debris, April 2019. 6.5 miles of the canyon rec path is buried under tons of debris, and cleanup isn't expected to be complete until at least June.
Courtesy of Summit County Government

An unprecedented avalanche season is leaving Summit County with an unprecedented cleanup effort. The historic snow slides in March buried more than 6 miles of the recreation path between Frisco and Copper Mountain under many tons of debris, leaving county officials scrambling to find a way to clear the path by peak summer season in July.

Summit County Open Space & Trails director Brian Lorch gave a presentation about the condition of the Ten Mile Canyon recpath to the Summit Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday morning. Due to still-precarious avalanche conditions, the county had not been able to get a clear idea of how much debris is on the recpath until recently.

Lorch said that the department’s rough survey of the recpath found 23 avalanche slide paths had left 5,484 linear feet across 6.5 miles of recreation path buried under debris. Those 23 slides were all triggered by CDOT doing avalanche mitigation work with explosive ordinance.

The debris depth across most of that distance ranges from 5 to over 20 feet above the ground. Lorch said because the area hasn’t yet melted off, it is hard to tell how much of that debris is snow and how much if it consists of trees, rocks, boulders and anything else that slid down. The debris also makes it impossible to tell how much, if any, damage was done to the recpaths themselves.

County public works director Tom Gosiorowski added that because of how the downed trees in the debris provide shade to the underlying piles, the snow in those piles are melting slower than exposed snow.

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Lorch provided a list of the different avalanche paths along the rec path with their associated severity. Several of the slide paths — including Big Rick, Mary Vera, Big Lee and Curtain — dumped debris into Tenmile Creek, creating several artificial bridges across the creek and of potential infrastructure damage downstream.

Clearing all of that debris in time for summer riding is a tall task. The task would go relatively quickly if a large bulldozer could go in and push the piles to the side, or if dump trucks could be deployed to carry debris out.

However, the large machinery would damage the recpath and nullify the purpose of clearing it. The U.S. Forest Service would also probably object to such an operation due to the environmental damage it would cause. However, the USFS did give its approval of the county’s proposal to move the debris to the sides of the recpath. The forest service itself won’t pay for the cleanup, as they consider the result a “natural event,” and because the recpath is a licensed pathway that the county maintains.

Lorch presented the estimated cost of cleanup, based on the very preliminary findings. To hire a thumbed excavator, loader, sawyer, and associated operators and equiopment, it would cost the county $4,040 a day. The heavy machinery would need to crawl along the canyon and push debris to the side.

The minimum cleanup estimate is 15 days of work, which would come out to $60,600 total, with a further projection of $80,800 for 20 days of work. And that’s after the county puts out requests for bids, a bid is accepted, the snow clears out and the conditions are safe. The commissioners were advised that the cleanup would probably take longer than those estimates.

Given how there’s no way to tell how much work needs to be done until the snow melts, it is probable that Ten Mile Canyon path won’t be open until the middle of June or July. That particular stretch of recpath usually opens earlier in the year, with Memorial Day being the typical goal opening date.

Aside from the disappointment for the very busy recpath’s thousands of recreational users, assistant county manager Bentley Henderson said that the organizers of the Run the Rockies 10K and half-marathon scheduled for June 1 had already been advised that they needed to change the race course to bypass Ten Mile Canyon, with other future event modifications or cancellations possible.

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