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Fireworks canceled, but still lots of fun planned for Independence Day

Due to extreme fire danger, Rifle has canceled the annual July 3rd fireworks show, the city announced Tuesday.

“Conditions in the area have not improved since June 18 when Garfield County implemented Stage 1 fire restrictions,” the city stated in a news release. “Those restrictions are applicable to the city of Rifle through Rifle Municipal Code 10-10-40(e).”

There are still plenty of activities for all ages scheduled for the Independence Day celebration.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Metro Park, there will be a bounce house, dunk tank and bubble tower. Pool session fees will be only $3. Tickets must be purchased in advance for the pool on the city website, RifleCo.org.

At Centennial Park, Symphony in the Valley’s ensemble, Noodle Soup, will be playing a concert beginning at 7:15 p.m.

Symphony in the Valley will then present a patriotic concert beginning at 8:15 p.m. at the Centennial Park Amphitheater.

The sound system will be extended so people can enjoy great symphony sound even if they are not seated in front of the stage. Food vendors will be at the park as well.

“Come early and enjoy the afternoon visiting Rifle businesses, restaurants and the park prior to the show,” the release states. “Centennial Park is a beautiful venue with a great playground. The Centennial Park water spray pad will operate for extended hours that night until 8:30 p.m.”

For updated information on all city matters, visit the city website at RifleCo.org or its Facebook and Twitter pages.

New Rifle restaurant offers Mexican, American fusion

Chef Ruben Gomez Sr. prepares some fajitas at Dos Patrias in Rifle.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

There’s something distinctly unforgettable about ordering a juicy torta complemented with a crispy side of fries that makes a “foodie” truly think they indeed came to the right place.

Family-owned Dos Patrias restaurant — which translates from Spanish to “Two Homelands” — offers just that. Amid the handful of Latino restaurants already furnished throughout the Western Garfield County city, the new establishment generally gears its menu toward a mixed selection of fare.

Carne asada tacos or pollo asado fixes are always there for the taking. But additional main entrees otherwise usually advertised on the last page of most Mexican restaurant menus include familiar fare like chicken sandwiches, cheeseburgers and, of course, fries.

It’s pretty much as if your two favorite foods decided to marry and go on a delicious honeymoon cruise together, and you were the captain.

Originally from Nayarit, Mexico, owner and head chef Ruben Gomez Sr. combined his natural love for Mexican cuisine with classic bar eats after he arrived in the United States.

He’d spend time growing his culinary reputation behind a flat top at the upscale French-American restaurant Cache Cache in Aspen. For years, Gomez worked as a chef at Aspen Valley Hospital.

“It was my dad’s dream to own his own restaurant,” Manager Ruben Gomez Jr. said of his father.

In 2018, Gomez Sr.’s dream started to come to fruition. The former “Moo’s Place” ice-cream and yogurt shop at 840 Railroad Ave. went up for sale, and Ruben Sr. and wife Maria Gomez pounced.

The building being in dire need of some elbow grease, Gomez Sr. rolled up his sleeves.

“It was mostly my father — he spent a lot of his free time here just trying to fix it up piece by piece before we can actually hire people,” Gomez Jr. said. “He had to install new floors and add the hood for the kitchen and stuff like that. We had to take apart the floors one day because they’re just crap.”

And just like that, Dos Patrias would officially open its full menu May 16. The items, an assortment of traits made from scratch.

Ruben Gomez Jr. and Ruben Gomez Sr. pose for the camera inside Dos Patrias in Rifle.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

“So most of the recipes are his. I grew up eating all this food, and it tastes great,” Gomez Jr. said. “He’s a great chef. … He’s very proud of his work, and, you know, it took him years to kind of figure it out, his top marinades.”

Gomez Sr. said whether it’s for chicken or steak, his marinades provide an original kick.

“I make the marinade homemade,” he said. “I think that’s the thing that’s special is everything’s made fresh.”

Take, for instance, the chicken, which comes with a distinct marinade flavor of cayenne, Gomez Jr. said.

“And just like the flavor. I feel like it is the best,” he said. “And we only offer that marinade for the chicken for pollo asado. Because we have other chicken dishes, but that marinade’s different.”

From turf to surf, Dos Patrias also has two types of shrimp.

“One’s grilled with a little bit of garlic butter, and the other one sauteed in the pan with kind of like a spicy red sauce, and they both feature rice and vegetables,” Gomez Jr. said. “So they’re pretty popular right now, too.”

But in addition to fine eats, the Gomez family provides a friendly, personable atmosphere to its hungry patrons.

“We like to get involved with all the people here in town,” Gomez Sr. said. “We like to invite everybody to come to try my food. … We like to share with the people and make them feel comfortable. And we like to invite especially those who are coming up here to be happy.”

Dos Patrias is open from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or rerku@postindependent.com.

Old-fashioned block party; Rifle’s Ute Theater patio to open for alcohol service

The Ute Theater in Rifle.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

With the outdoor “Thursday Patio Music Series” offered by the Ute Theater continuing to grow in popularity, venue officials asked Rifle City Council on June 16 to extend their liquor license out to East Fourth Street.

“If (patrons) happen to carry a beverage out with them,” Theater Director Wayne Pleasants said, “we want them to be able to do that.”

The outdoor concert series, which has already featured acts of Nu-Blu, Stone Kitchen and The Brothers, is attracting between 85 to 125 people a night, Pleasants said.

“It’s helped our revenue sources as far as the bar goes,” Pleasants said. “And we’re averaging about $10 to $15 a cover.”

A motion eventually passed unanimously for the Ute to receive a “temporary modification of premises,” which essentially expands the venue’s existing liquor license area outside.

The outdoor parameters for legal alcoholic beverage sales extend from the nearby Alpine Bank drive-through to the handicap ramp beside the Rifle Heritage Center on West Avenue, Pleasants said. The new area is about about 72-by-132 feet.

“Class 3” barricades, at the request of Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein, will be erected, while signage will be strategically placed to direct traffic.

Before the vote, however, City Council directed some concerns toward motor traffic causing congestion at the Alpine Bank drive-through.

“My wonder was there are times — as I know you know — when that drive-though backs up pretty heavily, and so asking someone to try to go through the drive-through without needing to do business there at times can be a challenge,” council member Theresa Hamilton said.

Pleasants said traffic congestion in that area typically occurs on Friday night and sometimes Saturday morning. East Fourth Street, meanwhile, will not close to traffic until after 5:30 p.m. The concert series usually runs from 6-9 p.m.

The temporary modification will be in place until Dec. 31. Pleasants said the Ute’s outdoor concert series won’t implement the extended liquor license until the nearby downtown construction infrastructure project is complete.

Once they officially pop the top, the Ute hopes the added amenity will help drum up more business for everyone downtown.

“We may be able to extend our breadth somewhat and also hopefully help the businesses,” he said. “I know last Thursday there were something like 30 pizzas bought. People are bringing over salads from the restaurants and sitting and listening. So, hopefully, it’s helping some of the Third Street businesses.”

If popularity continues to grow, Pleasants said the theater’s board, the New Ute Theatre Society, will again come before the council in early 2022.

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or rerku@postindependent.com.

Dog bites male suspected of attempting to abduct child

The Rifle Police Department is searching for a male suspected of recently attempting to abduct a child in Rifle.

Around 8:30 p.m. Thursday, the child was walking with a family dog in Lion’s Park when the male, believed to be 50 or older, approached, according to a Rifle Police Department news release.

The unknown male took hold of the child’s arm but the dog immediately bit the suspect’s hand.

“The child’s mother confronted the male, and he subsequently left the area in a van,” the release states. “The van was last seen driving east in the 1000 block of Airport Road.”

The suspect is described as white and was wearing a white T-shirt and shorts. He also had dirty gray and blond hair, brown eyes, yellow teeth and a beard 2 to 3 inches in length.

He was driving an older white-panel van with no license plates. The front bumper was damaged on the passenger side.

Rifle police request anyone in Lion’s Park who witnessed the incident or can remember seeing the person or vehicle matching the suspect’s description to contact the department 970-665-6500.

Ribbon cut: Grand River in Rifle officially opens new expansion

People tour the new expansion of the Grand River Health hospital.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Battlement Mesa resident Sara Musson is wheelchair-bound. But that didn’t stop her from joining what turned out to be one of the first tours through the new Grand River Health patient wing.

“We needed it,” she said Tuesday of the expansion, her husband, Ken, slowly pushing her behind the group. “The community’s grown so much, with more and more people moving in.”

Following speeches by Grand River Health CEO Jim Coombs; Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle; Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson; and Rifle Mayor Barbara Clifton, among others who spearheaded the effort, Tuesday ushered in the first official opening of the 100,000-square-foot addition.

The Mussons, both former certified nursing assistants, were elated.

“I wish I could work here,” Sara Musson said, “but I couldn’t.”

One of the new patient rooms inside the new expansion at Grand River Health.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

By a margin of more than 60%, voters in the Grand River Hospital District passed an $89.4 million bond issue in 2017, which would support not only the hospital’s expansion but the construction of the new Grand River Care Center on East Fifth Street.

Based on that critical vote alone, Grand River now introduces a building expansion that includes three floors. This includes an expansion to the hospital’s infusion center.

Amber Hill is a registered nurse in the oncology department and said Grand River’s original infusion center, created about four years ago, had just two chairs. Now, the Rifle hospital has six glass-door infusion rooms, thanks to the community’s efforts.

“It’s huge, because now we will be able to have chemo patients come and get their care here and be able to do average chemo from here and do antibiotic fluids, a whole bunch of just any type of infusions that they need to help them get better,” Hill said. “This way we’re able to help immensely.”

A quilt, which hangs on a second-floor wall of Grand River’s new patient wing, is dedicated to Dr. Oscar Clagett. Clagett was responsible for providing health care to the Rifle area for many years.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

The first floor is complete with a sleek, modern-day design reception area and pharmacies as well as cardiac pulmonary rehab and cardiopulmonary areas.

“We’ll have so many more patients than we’re helping now,” Hill said.

The second floor has 25 private patient rooms. It’s assorted with swing-bed, step-down and medical-surgical units, Grand River Administrative Director Annick Pruett said.

“Community members really want a private room when they’re trying to recuperate for a number of reasons,” she said. “No. 1, you sleep better, it’s better at infection control, and it’s just a better healing environment; your family can be with you. It just speeds up the healing.”

The third floor awaits future plans.


Standing before a crowd of nurses and medical practitioners, administrators and anyone interested in seeing the new expansion, Coombs referred to the hospital’s new look as a “dream” of the people.

“It expands our capabilities here at the hospital,” he said. “We have ICU-level beds, we also have swing beds as part of this expansion. So that means if somebody needs an extra day or two after surgery, or having a hip or knee replacement needs just a little extra time to recover … that’s here.”

Grand River Health CEO Jim Coombs gives a speech prior to the ribbon cutting of the facility’s new expansion.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Will echoed Coombs’ mention of the expansion being a dream, calling it “wonderful.”

“This is such a community asset, and everyone in this community and everyone should be proud of the fact that they got this great thing,” he said. “The community support is awesome.”

Samson said the expansion will stand here for years. He didn’t want to call it a monument but a place of healing.

“But I think even more important than that, I’ve heard that humor is the best medicine — I would disagree,” Samson said. “I think love … love is the best. And this, I can see, will be a house of love.”

Clifton offered her congratulations to the evolution of the hospital expansion and that if last year’s COVID-19 pandemic has taught anything, “it’s the importance of health care.

Rifle Mayor Barbara Clifton praises the voters of Grand River Health hospital district for passing a bond issue, which supported Grand River’s expansion.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

“Grand River has done a spectacular job, and this hospital expansion and the new Grand River health care center demonstrate their commitment to excellent health care,” she said. “I want to also congratulate all the voters of the district who had the foresight to actually vote and to understand the importance of this expansion.”

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or rerku@citizentelegram.com.

Arnold Mackley remembered for fair approach to post-oil shale Garfield County government; former commissioner died May 27 at age 88

Arnold Mackley, shown here in this 2013 Citizen Telegram/Post Independent file photo, at work on the oil shale research and development front.

Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson has two distinct memories of one of his political predecessors, Arnold Mackley.

Mackley died May 27 after a battle with cancer. He was 88. A full obituary appears in the Wednesday, June 15, Post Independent on page 13, and online.

Samson was a young boy when he first came to know Mackley and his wife Darleen (Bernclau), and he would later go on to teach the Mackleys’ children at Rifle High School.

When Mackley, a longtime oil shale industry worker and advocate up until his retirement only four years ago at age 84, decided to run for county commissioner in 1988, he tapped Samson to put his name up for nomination at the county Republican’s assembly that spring.

“I said, ‘Mr. Mackley’ — I was a young man at the time — ‘I would be more than happy to do that,’” Samson recalled. “One of the last things I remember saying in that nomination speech was, ‘I don’t know who the Democrats will nominate, but I do know this: Arnold Mackley will be our next county commissioner.”

Mackley won that year’s election over Democrat J.B. VanTeylingen, who happened to be a Rifle High School classmate of Samson’s.

Mackley would go on to serve eight years on the Board of County Commissioners alongside Marian Smith, the county’s first female county commissioner, and the late Buckey Arbaney.

During those years, from 1988 to 1996, Garfield County was still coming out of the economic slump stemming from the oil shale bust of 1982 when Exxon Energy pulled out of its Colony Oil Shale Project in the Piceance Basin.

It was a tug-of-war between unprecedented residential and population growth in the county, including the development of upscale neighborhoods such as Aspen Glen, along with proposals to reopen old coal mines, build power plants and facilitate the growing natural gas industry.

“I thought he was a pretty good county commissioner,” said the former longtime chairman of the Garfield County Democrats, Ed Sands of Rifle.

He acknowledged that political disagreements in those days were not nearly as contentious as they are today.

“He was very fair and balanced things pretty well with the oil and gas industry starting to hit us at the time,” Sands said of Mackley.

Samson’s second memory of Mackley is when he himself began toying with the idea of running for county commissioner in 2008.

“There were maybe about five people I reached out to as I was making that decision, and two of them were Arnold Mackley and Marian Smith,” Samson said. “I went to Arnold’s house, and we sat at the table and talked for hours. He very strongly encouraged me to do it, and taught me a lot of things right then and during that campaign.”

He also remembered Mackley as one of the preeminent experts when it came to oil shale research.

Born in Clifton, Mackley was part of the first class to graduate from Central High School, attended Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University), and he went on to serve in the U.S. Navy. After his discharge, he got in on the front end of the oil shale industry, working for several different companies on the research and development end of things, concluding his career with AMSO LLC, American Shale Oil.

“I was laying on the couch, and my mother was looking at the help wanted ads, trying to find me a job,” Mackley recalled in a 2013 interview with the Citizen Telegram newspaper.

One of those jobs was as an accountant/warehouseman in Parachute for Stearns Roger Corp. He got the job, which brought him to Rifle, where he would meet his future wife, Darleen. Together, they would eventually raise three children, daughters Darla and Diane and son Ryan.

Darleen and Arnold Mackley with their grandson, Ethan, during the 2019 Rifle High School football season.
Facebook photo

“Arnold was the driving force for oil shale for a lot of years,” Samson said. “He believed in it, and when I think of all the hard work and sweat equity that went into trying to make that a reality, Arnold Mackley comes to mind.

“He was also a great mentor to me, and gave me a lot of good advice,” Samson said.

In addition to his work in the energy industry and politics, Mackley also worked the family ranch, was a member of the Holy Cross Cattlemen’s Association, and was an avid supporter of the Garfield County Fair and the New Ute Theatre Society and Event Center in Rifle.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

Driver suspected of DUI after vehicle is fished out of Colorado River

A man was charged with suspicion of driving under the influence after his vehicle had to be fished out of the Colorado River in Rifle on Tuesday.

The man, reported as homeless, was arrested just after 4 p.m. Tuesday when the Rifle Police Department was called to a boat launch area near Lion’s Pond. When they arrived, the man’s vehicle, a Ford Explorer, was partly submerged.

“The upper fenders and above were sticking out of the water but the engine was submerged,” Rifle Police Officer Lt. Mike Kuper said.

Kuper said the man was standing with the passenger of the vehicle at the boat launch area when the Rifle arrived on scene. The man would tell responding officers that he pulled his vehicle in too close to the water and it was taken by the strong current, Kuper said.

There was no boat involved in the incident.

The man was then arrested and also charged with reckless driving. His vehicle was then towed out of the water.

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or rerku@postindependent.com.

Rifle municipal pool deals with lifeguard shortage

Kids enjoy sliding down a small waterslide at Rifle Metro Pool.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent
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Driblets of water beaded down Hudson Parrington’s goggles and blue wetsuit decorated with a cartoon shark on its front. The 7-year-old had just slid down a small waterslide and began sharing his take on the best part of the pool.

“The lazy river!” he exclaimed. “It’s my favorite.”

Amid 93-degree heat, low winds and sparse clouds, the summer heat helped usher in the first official day of the Rifle Metro Pool’s opening Friday. It wasn’t even 1:30 p.m. yet and at least 150 visitors had already sold out the maximum limit.

Hudson’s mother, Katie Parrington, dunked her legs into the water as she sat on the pool’s edge, while scores of kids continued to wade by and splash gleefully in the water.

She started to dive into how this year at the pool compares to 2020, the summer of COVID-19.

“I mean, it was different,” she said. “In a way, it was kind of nice with the limited amount of people just because it wasn’t super crazy. And it’s a little bit unfortunate that you can only stay two hours, but it’s just good to be here.”

Hudson Parrington, 7, is greeted with a whoosh of water after sliding down a small waterslide at Rifle Metro Pool.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent
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In 2020, the Rifle Metro Pool limited capacity to 75 people at a time. In 2021, 150 people are now allowed in at any given time.

Prior to 2020, the Rifle Metro Pool was less than half the size of what is today, which now includes a lap pool with a diving board, a beach-entry pool with a play structure and a flow channel, a catch pool with a 27-foot waterslide and a family whirlpool, among other new amenities.

“The kids’ area is really cool for kids that aren’t tall enough; the lazy river’s amazing,” Katie Parrington said. “The deeper end with the rock climbing wall and the basketball hoops, the bigger kids enjoy that. It’s good.”

Before voters approved roughly $8 million on these renovations, however, the old Art Dague Pool had been around since opening in 1969.

Back then, the pool was built to accommodate less than 3,000 people living in the area. That project materialized from a $90,000 bond issue.

The voters of Rifle opted in 2017 for the city to go out for a $6 million loan to help get the ball rolling for a pool renovation project. By Aug. 9, 2019, the Art Dague shut the gate, and ground was eventually broken.

A bigger municipal pool means hiring more workers to run the place, but the global pandemic disrupted the workforce itself.

Charlotte Lewis, 8, does a flip into the Rifle Metro Pool.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent
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Rifle Recreation Program Manager Austin Rickstrew said the pool has about 50 lifeguards on staff, which isn’t enough to necessarily float the boat.

“We need about 60 to 70 lifeguards so we can allow people to have days off,” Rickstrew said.

With the old, significantly smaller pool, fewer lifeguards were required to patrol and supervise their aquatic domain, which meant hiring the right amount of people wasn’t an issue.

“With the new pool it requires more guards per shift just because we’ve basically tripled in size,” Rickstrew said. “So we have to have a lot more eyes on different bodies of water. … We went from two bodies of water in the old pool to having four bodies of water.”

Typically, lifeguard positions are filled by high school- or college-aged individuals. This means the full-time workforce that’s slowly thawing from the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t necessarily on the prowl for a seasonal, part-time job at a community pool, Rickstrew said. The pay range for starting lifeguards is $12.50 to $13.50. Pay increases if an employee decides to get certified to teach swim lessons.

But the most pressing issue in relation to hiring more bodies isn’t limited to workforce demographics. More specifically, being that COVID-19 compelled state and local officials to vote to delay and extend high school sports, some prospective lifeguards are still finishing up with Season D sports.

Kinzley Winschell, 5, concentrates just before making contact with water at the Rifle Metro Pool.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent
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“With sports going into June, in the first week in July — that takes a lot of our workforce away,” Rickstrew said. “Because they’re still playing high school sports with this COVID season still going on.”

Worst-case scenario, a lack of staff could mean shaving off some hours of operation, Rickstrew said.


On Thursday afternoon, McAllister Glynn, 17, kneeled beside the whirlpool and began scrubbing away at the checkered tiles on an exterior wall.

McAllister Glynn, 17, cleans the whirlpool at Rifle Metro Pool.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent
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Since staffing is limited, cleaning could very well be a more prevalent duty than overseeing swimmers’ safety and well-being throughout the summer.

“It’d be nicer to have more guards,” she said.

With fewer fellow employees, you get fewer breaks, Glynn said.

“Because a lot of the time your shifts are in the middle of the day, so that kind of leaves you with not a whole lot of time; not in the beginning, not a lot of time at the end of the day,” Glynn said. “So, to have the whole day off, it’s a lot easier. You can actually go and do something without having to cut out a big chunk of time to come to work.”

Kaden Wolf, 18, prepares the Rifle Metro Pool for visitors.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent.
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Nearby, fellow lifeguard Kaden Wolf, 18, waded knee-deep in the zero-entry pool, slowly cleaning the floor. Despite recently being a go-to running back for Rifle High School football, he still lamented that an extension on high school sports has affected the potential workforce.

“It’s definitely kind of thrown a wrench in at least the plans for the pool, because a lot of our staff from last year is involved in track and soccer and whatnot,” he said. “So they’re not going to be able to come work until later in the summer.”

Training consists of taking 40 hours worth of lifeguard certification classes, which the city defrays if an employee chooses to get their certification through the local pool.

“But at the same time, you know, with COVID and everything, sports are important,” Wolf said. “And the fact that they’re able to get them done this year … that’s kind of a priority for a lot of the high school kids that are working here.”

Looking toward the season, Wolf described it in one word: crazy.

People enjoy the lazy river at Rifle Metro Pool.
Ray K. Erku / Post Indepedendent
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“Like, I’ve worked with the same people almost every day this week,” he said. “A lot of the people that were here last year didn’t come back, so even though we’re short-staffed, a lot of the guards are still new. But hopefully, people keep coming and showing up.”

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or rerku@citizentelegram.com.

State parks in western Garfield County see increases in visitors

Visitors observe Rifle Falls.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

State parks in western Garfield County have seen anywhere between a 5% to 60% increase in visitation from 2019 to 2020, according to data provided by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Between Rifle Gap, Harvey Gap and Rifle Falls state parks, Harvey Gap saw the largest percentage increase in foot traffic between the years 2019 and 2020.

Annual traffic at Harvey Gap rose from 52,559 in 2019 to 78,683 in 2020, which is a 49.7% increase.

For Rifle Falls State Park, annual foot traffic increased from 123,323 in 2019 to 141,553 in 2020, a 14.9% increase.

Finally, annual foot traffic at Rifle Gap State Park shot up from 271,478 in 2019 to 294,877 in 2020, for an 8.6% increase.

Even at Rifle Mountain Park, a recreational site overseen by the city that offers ice climbing opportunities most winters, numbers have increased.

Revenue generated from other municipal annual and day-pass sales eclipsed $75,000 in 2020.

In 2020, the total revenue generated from annual-pass fees at Rifle Metro Pool was $9,345. Total revenue from day-pass sales, meanwhile, was $67,061.

In 2019, annual-pass sales generated $8,890 in revenue, while day-pass sales generated $39,069 in revenue.

The 2021 season has already seen $5,480 in season-pass fees as well as a whopping $13,823 in day-pass fees.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesperson Travis Duncan said he isn’t surprised by the local numbers, because foot traffic at all Colorado state parks jumped from 15 million to 19 million visitors between 2019 and 2020.

A family catches some mist from behind Rifle Falls.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

Duncan, in fact, said he expected visitation to be higher at state parks in Garfield County. COVID-19 left people with little to do except maybe explore one of 42 total state parks in the Centennial State or partake in other outdoor recreational opportunities.

“We’re seeing these kinds of things across the state and seeing even bigger increases at Front Range parks,” he said. “They just really got slammed, like Pueblo and Cherry Creek and Chatfield.”

For instance, Pueblo State Park saw its numbers dramatically increase from about 2.47 million visitors in 2019 to 3.06 million in 2020.

Duncan said revenue at state parks increased from $8.87 million in July through December 2019 to $12.9 million in July through December 2020.

“It’s pretty positive that (the increase) was due to more people getting outside due to COVID,” Duncan said.


Kim Konzil, a 28-year-old nurse from Atlanta who travels the country caring for COVID-19 patients, was enjoying a hike through Rifle Falls State Park on Friday.

Asked to provide her take on why foot traffic at state parks like Rifle Falls continues to increase, she said, “That’s a really good question.”

“I’ve thought about this a lot, and it’s kind of hard to articulate,” she said. “But when you’re just stuck at home, and just kind of with your own thoughts, you’re like, ‘Man, I want to go do something that uplifts me and makes me feel connected.’”

Hiking a place like Rifle Falls is also a good way to let her hair down, Konzil acknowledged.

“I mean, I’ve never been to war, but it made me think like, I wonder if this is what it feels like because everyone needs immediate help, and everyone’s just dying. Every shift was like that,” Konzil said of some of her experiences treating COVID-19 patients. “You just leave one room and look at the monitor and someone else is dying, and you leave to the next one and, at a certain point, you’re like, ‘Lay on your stomach and keep your mask on,’ and they still just slowly die.”

A boat floats on Rifle Gap Reservoir.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

After typically working 12.5- to 13-hour shifts, Konzil said she looks forward to having the opportunity to explore outdoor places like Rifle Falls.

“It’s the only thing that keeps me going,” she said.

Other Rifle Falls State Park visitors, like 77-year-old Delbert Smith of Denver, enjoy the fact that they can spend retired life simply visiting the various outdoor attractions interspersed throughout the United States. He accompanied his 68-year-old wife, Judy Smith.

Having the opportunity to explore amid COVID-19, however, accentuated the experiences.

A couple holds hands as they visit Rifle Falls State Park.
Ray K. Erku / Post Independent

“For us, it was fantastic, because we’ve been traveling all over the country in a motorhome,” Delbert, 77, said. We stop at places like this and picnic.”

People can get away and yet, at a park, they’re still social distancing, Delbert said.

“You pull into a campground, and most of the campgrounds you just pick your paperwork up at the door,” Delbert said. “And then you went in the park and if you got neighbors, you’re 20 feet away.”

“Oh, I think this is gorgeous,” Delbert added of Rifle Falls. “This is one of our favorite places.”

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or rerku@postindependent.com.

A revamped downtown Rifle takes shape amid construction

Following months of construction along Third Street and closing down a section of Railroad Avenue to through traffic, the fruits of downtown Rifle’s revitalization project are starting to ripen.

“When you actually get over to that west side, suddenly it feels totally different,” City Manager Scott Hahn told Rifle City Council on June 2. “It doesn’t feel like Rifle downtown, because you’re used to thinking how it used to be… I have business owners come out, and they’re extremely pleased with how it’s looking.”

City engineer Craig Spaulding said work began this week on the sidewalk on the opposite end of Railroad Avenue between Second and Third streets. Curb and gutter work are also underway.

After a new waterline was tested last week, Spaulding said water services will be tied into existing valves this week.

Spaulding said excavation is taking place between Third and Fourth streets.

“That section gets excavated down 3 feet from the finished surface to get rid of unsuitable soils,” he said. “That will be starting and require at times a closure of the intersection of (Fourth Street), so access to (Alpine Bank) will be through the alley.”

“We are putting the temporary exit back through the DDA parking lot through the post office,” Spaulding added. “But that will be the biggest change to traffic flow and parking.”

KSK Construction, contracted by the city for $3.8 million to fix infrastructure, render parking and beautify the downtown area, finished concrete paving Third Street between Railroad and West avenues.

KSK Construction owner Kirk Knowles said pavement marking material has been ordered, and they’re working on handicap access points and crosswalks this week. In addition, the west section of Third Street is now wired for electrical, and light poles are being erected.

“I’m just thrilled with the performance and the work and the operation we’re getting from the city and the city staff,” Knowles said. “We were a little bit rough starting out with (requests for information), trying to figure each other out.”

Earlier this year, amid an increase in traffic and road closures due to downtown construction as well as a delay in construction completion for the Centennial Parkway Bridge, the city requested KSK provide more information in relation to their scheduling and procedures.

In addition to all the new attributes taking form in the downtown area, Hahn reported a construction mishap that recently occurred. Hahn said an old 10-inch waterline that wasn’t properly secured burst during excavation procedures.

“We had a 10-inch just blowing water and turned the entire downtown project into a river of mud and then flooded some of the businesses downtown,” he said.

Hahn praised contractors for immediately scrambling to fix the problem.

“We went down into Lauren Boebert’s basement area, and she had to show me how the waters come in different places and how they’re drying it all out,” Hahn said. “It was dramatic that day. I just want to credit the contractor and our staff.”

Knowles said the new replacement pipe will last “beyond our great-grandchildren.”

“Quite honestly, by the grace of God, we decided to go get lunch and crawl out of that hole when it exploded,” he said. “We could’ve hurt somebody.”

“You’re never prepared for it,” Knowles added. “But we had a great response for it.”

Knowles also told City Council that downtown construction will not be completed in time for the Garfield County Fair, which is slated to start July 27. He did say, however, that the goal is to have the area paved in time for the fair’s parade.

Roughly 30 downtown businesses negatively affected by the downtown construction project are eligible for up to $2,000 each in support from the city of Rifle.

Since April, construction has closed off sections of Third Street and Railroad Avenue, which has affected parking and traffic.

“This is a way to get some reimbursement back into the hands of businesses affected by the downtown closures essentially,” city manager Scott Hahn said.

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or rerku@postindependent.com.