Caverns tramway gets a lift from county approval
The proposed Glenwood Caverns aerial tramway and mountaintop shop and restaurant won a nod Monday from the Garfield County commissioners.The commissioners approved an amendment to the Caverns’ special use permit, issued in 1999. That permit opened the caverns to public visits with bus access up Iron Mountain on Transfer Trail.Garfield County and the city of Glenwood Springs are reviewing the proposal because part lies within the city limits and part outside.The three-part plan calls for:-A 68-room hotel and 14,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space in the Two Rivers Plaza at Devereux Road and Highway 6. There, visitors will board tramway gondolas that will carry them up the mountain to the caverns.-An aerial tramway running from the plaza to the caverns entrance.-A three-story, 9,500-square-foot building at the top of Iron Mountain.The county must approve the tramway and mountaintop building for the project to move forward.The tramway will allow the caverns to be open year-round. At present, the caverns are closed in winter when buses can no longer negotiate the steep and twisty Transfer Trail.”The Glenwood Caverns are basically maxed out now because of transportation,” said tramway engineer Chuck Peterson, a partner on the project with Glenwood Caverns owners Steve and Jeanne Beckley.Peterson said tramway construction could begin in mid-June or early July if the partners win approval from City Council, which is set to consider the plan June 6.The tramway is expected to be completed by the end of the year, he said.Along with their approval of the amended permit, the commissioners attached a few strings.Before granting the permit, they expect to see a pre-annexation agreement between Glenwood Caverns and the city, a weed management plan, a fire mitigation plan, state health department approval of the sewage system, signed access agreements with owners of property the tramway will cross, and U.S. Bureau of Land Management approval for construction traffic for Transfer Trail.In addition, if the tramway ceases operation for a year or more, it must be removed.The commissioners were also concerned about sewage disposal from the mountaintop facility. Peterson said the plan is to send liquid sewage down to town in a wastewater line suspended from the tramway cable. Solid waste would be buried, and the caverns’ septic system, already permitted, would act as a backup.”We feel it’s technically feasible,” Peterson said, although the system is still under design.Potable city water would be pumped up a separate line along the tramway cable and stored in a tank on top of the mountain.Commissioner Larry McCown also questioned Peterson and Beckley about the adequacy of the proposed parking lot at the hotel, which is designed for 118 spaces.Within a block and a half of the tramway terminus are numerous hotels, Peterson said. Those hotels now supply about 40 percent of the caverns’ business.”The cave ran 38,000 people last year with no parking,” Beckley said.So far the tramway, hotel and mountaintop amenities have drawn little opposition from the public.Public comment at Monday’s meeting ran in favor of the project.”I don’t think I need to tell you the impact this project would make on Glenwood Springs and the region,” said Marianne Virgili, director of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.Having a strong winter attraction “would help the city’s economy in the off-season,” she added.”I think this opportunity for Garfield County is outstanding,” said Joe Livingston, director of the Small Business Development Center of Colorado Mountain College. “It will help what is now a construction-based economy and help with the shoulder season.”
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