Debris and mud cover roads, trails, train tracks in Glenwood Springs
After a quick weather jump from cold to warm over the past week, there have now been multiple areas of mud and debris flow throughout Glenwood Springs and the surrounding area due to the rapidly melting snow on Red Mountain and elsewhere.
On Tuesday morning, a major debris flow blocked access to the wastewater treatment facility in West Glenwood, along with covering the Union Pacific Railroad train tracks in West Glenwood, causing a freight train to get stuck.
“A long and heavy snowpack winter paired with a quick rise in temperatures is making for an abnormal runoff season,” City Manager Beverli Marshall said in a Tuesday morning news release.
There were no injuries or people unaccounted for from the flows, according to the release.
“We are coordinating with the Union Pacific Railroad and Xcel Energy on cleanup operations, and we continue to work with geotechnical experts on identifying vulnerabilities and planning for additions to resilient infrastructure,” she said in the release. “In the meantime, additional slides are possible.”
City staff has also contacted local contractors for additional help to regain access to the water treatment plant.
By midday Tuesday, the city was able to access the water treatment plant, and the Union Pacific Railroad was able to free itself and clear the railroad tracks to depart and move on by around 2 p.m., according to Matt Langhorst.
“The city is working to clear as much debris as necessary to make the wastewater treatment plant road and railroad safe over the next few days,” he said in an email earlier in the day.
On Monday, local trails on Red Mountain, at Wulsohn Mountain Park and on the higher trails of the South Canyon trail system were closed from mud flows, and the city was urging people to stay off the closed trails.
Red Mountain is susceptible to debris flow hazards because of the underlying geology, said Francis Rengers, research geologist for the landslide hazards program at the United States Geological Survey.
“At the top of the mountain, the Maroon Formation has been observed to create landslides because it has components of mudstone and siltstone that makes it relatively weak,” Rengers said. “The Maroon Formation overlies the Eagle Valley Formation, which has been observed to produce rockfall hazards.”
He added, “the bottom part of the slope near Wolfsohn Road is occupied by an old debris flow fan, where past landslides and debris flows have accumulated. This weak rock poses as landslide risk when snowmelt or heavy rains saturate the soil.”
In addition, Garfield County emergency management officials reported late Monday that County Road 127 (3 Mile Road) was covered with water and mud, and a private bridge was washed out at the half mile mark due to flooding on Three Mile Creek. Several residences were also being impacted.
And, the Colorado Department of Transportation was reporting mudflow activity in Glenwood Canyon near Interstate 70, including at the Hanging Lake Trail exit resulting in a temporary closure of the area through Friday.
CDOT is still monitoring for flooding, mudslides and other debris flows, along with monitoring river gauges. Crews are standing by for cleanup, if necessary, Elise Thatcher, CDOT Region 3 communications manager for CDOT, said.
“A mudslide came down onto the access road for Hanging Lake Rest Area, and crews were able to respond quickly and safely,” she said. “The expedited response included sending several trucks from Grand Junction to assist with clearing the slide.”
Crews are still working to clear the debris. In the meantime, Hanging Lake hiking reservations are being suspended through Friday, and refunds have been offered for anyone who had a reservation for this week, according to the Hanging Lake visitors website.
Due to additional mud activity in Glenwood Springs, portions of the West Midland Trailhead, Wulfsohn Trail North, Defiance Trail and Stevie Bob Trail are closed. Other sections of trail can still be accessed from the Community Center or the West Glenwood Roaring Fork Transportation Authority park and ride, the city release stated.
In South Canyon, Tramway Trail is opened up to where it intersects the Lightning Bug Trail, the release states. The Upper Trailhead and upper portions of Tramway and Lighting Bug remained closed until further notice due to unstable soil conditions.
Trail users can access the Tramway Trail at either the lower trailhead, close to the Archery Range, or at the midpoint near the landfill entrance.
Trail users are also advised to avoid the Jeanne Golay Trail (Red Mountain Trail) and Grandstaff Trail.
Wet trails can be fragile, and accessing them when they are closed by the city can cause them damage through erosion or to plant life when walking to the side of the mud flows.
Public Information Officer Bryana Starbuck recommends accessing one of the many other trails in Glenwood Springs that are more sun-facing with less snowpack on top of them in the meantime.
“This is, and will continue to be, a heavy lift for the city, and we are grateful for the work of our public works team and local partners,” Langhorst said in an email also thanking Gould Construction and city trucking partners.
City staff will be talking to Council about funding from the debris and mud slides at the City Council meeting on May 4.
“During spring runoff, if you encounter a stream of water crossing a trail, the safest option is to turn around rather than risk crossing,” city officials said in the release. “During peak runoff, mountain snowmelt can quickly turn gentle streams into uncrossable paths.”
There will be expected heavy truck traffic in the area by Red Mountain for cleanup on Tuesday.
“There is a significant amount of debris still above the roadway that will need to be removed and the area revegetated once the spring runoff and rain events allow,” Langhorst said. “This process will take all summer to complete and for the materials to be sorted out.”
An emergency response fund will be established to cover initial costs of cleanup with contributions from the water fund, wastewater fund and capital projects fund, the release states. There is not yet an estimate of the total cost for cleanup and response.
There are no estimated times for reopening. Trail statuses will be updated on this post and at GlenwoodRec.com/320.
Post Independent reporter Cassandra Ballard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-384-9131. Post Independent Managing Editor John Stroud contributed to this report.
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