Fate of New Castle road still undecided
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
NEW CASTLE, Colorado – Officials still don’t know what to do about a controversial stretch of road north of New Castle, which some want closed to vehicular traffic.
But after about an hour of debate Tuesday night, the New Castle Town Council agreed to hold a community-wide meeting in April or May.
Prior to that meeting, at the suggestion of Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, the council agreed to visit the site.
The controversy involves the northern end of Garfield County Road 241, otherwise known as East Elk Creek Road. It branches off Elk Creek Road, County Road 245, north of New Castle and travels northeast into the White River National Forest.
Short of the forest boundary line, adjacent landowner John Kelly has erected a double gate – one side leading to his private property, the other leading into the national forest – and a pedestrian gate. Kelly also granted a non-motorized easement across half a mile or so of his land, up to the actual forest boundary.
A short distance down the road back toward New Castle, one of Kelly’s neighbors, the Chandler family, deeded to the forest service a wide spot along East Elk Creek Road for a turn-around for horse trailers, and as the site for a portable toilet.
According to numerous longtime area residents, people have been driving on the road and traveling into the forest for decades.
Currently, the road goes approximately two miles beyond the forest boundary, at a point known as the “first bridge” across East Elk Creek.
Kelly, the Chandlers and others have said the forest service has long been interested in closing the road to vehicles from the forest boundary up to that point, a move the landowners support. That would leave it open only to hikers, bicyclists, equestrians and other non-motorized users.
At least two representatives of the White River National Forest Rifle ranger district, Kyle Grambley and Joe Fazzi, have said in public meetings that the agency wants to ban vehicles from that stretch of road.
On Tuesday, the New Castle councilors heard from roughly equal numbers of supporters and opponents of the vehicle-closure proposal, who packed the room and spilled into the hallway.
One of the closure opponents was Martin, who had previously argued against the vehicular closure in a meeting of the board of county commissioners.
“That was one of the most popular jeep roads ever,” said Martin on Feb. 14, claiming it had been used for decades by Garfield County residents jeeping up toward the Flat Tops and over to the Dotsero area on the Colorado River.
Martin said the road was established in the late 1800s, and in 1908 it became a county road leading to a mine and a sawmill that operated in the high country north of New Castle.
Local resident Barbara Orcutt said closure of the road to vehicles would mean her husband, Allen, a disabled Vietnam War veteran, would be unable to go up and see an area that he has enjoyed visiting in the past.
But veterinarian Liz Chandler argued that the road is dangerously narrow and that the possibility of vehicles sliding off the road poses a hazard to East Elk Creek, which is the source of New Castle’s drinking water.
Chandler also complained about inebriated motorists driving up the road to party in the woods and leaving a mess behind them, a claim that was supported by forest ranger Grambley.
Earl Dawson, a 90-year old native, stood up and told a story about being challenged by a forest ranger on horseback when he was fishing on the creek back in his youth.
“I was 25 years old, single and full of hell,” he told his appreciative and chuckling audience, adding that he then told the ranger to get down “and try to put me off,” which the ranger did not do.
Reckoning back on all the times he has driven up the road, Dawson declared, “I don’t see any reason why, or how, it should be closed” to vehicular traffic.
Martin said there had been earlier efforts to close the road to vehicles, which had failed. He said the county’s position is that it remains a county road and should be open to vehicles up to the “first bridge.” Beyond the bridge, the road narrows to a single-track trail.
“There needs to be some maintenance done” below that point, Martin conceded, noting that the road is in primitive condition.
But Fazzi said the current version of the proposed White River National Forest Travel Management Plan doesn’t call for motorized access on that stretch.
At another point in the meeting, Grambley noted that this road is only one of many forest roads in similar straits, declaring, “We’re unable to maintain them to the standard that they should be.”
Wyatt Keesbery, of the county’s road and bridge crew, said the county has reached an agreement with John Kelly, under which Kelly plows the road from the turn-around to the gate under normal conditions.
At that point, Martin suggested that at the next meeting, all such issues – maintenance, responsibility for cleaning up the portable toilet at the turn-around and messes left behind by nighttime partiers – could be negotiated.
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The Forest Service plans to replace the Carbondale Aspen-Sopris ranger district station with a newer, larger facility.