Glenwood Canyon closure fuels increased commerce in Rifle
Alternate routes aren’t the only things getting some extra use during the closure of Interstate 70.
Rifle Recreation Program Manager Austin Rickstrew said the Rifle Metro Pool, a public facility that charges patrons $2 a pop for use of its showers, has recently offered a lot more showers to people temporarily trapped due to debris flow cleanup and repairs in Glenwood Canyon.
“At times, it’s hard to find a parking spot in the pool parking lot,” he said. “But we’ve noticed an uptick in just traffic through our parking lot because we have portable restrooms towards the tennis courts, as well as just being busier.”
The flows, caused by rains hitting the Grizzly Creek burn scar, led to the extended closure of I-70 between Glenwood Springs and Dotsero since July 30. Meanwhile, the same stretch of Interstate has previously closed down intermittently due to periodic rains and ensuing debris flows.
Rickstrew said the pool has provided 73 showers between July 11 and Aug. 10. To put things in perspective, the local Rifle pool provided 38 showers in June alone. That means the pool has amassed a combined $222 in revenue based on shower use alone.
Despite the influx of patrons, Rickstrew said the local pool’s supply for all-in-one shampoo and body wash is at no risk of depletion.
“We have a pretty good stock, but we’ve been going through it a little bit faster in the showers,” he said. “But I haven’t noticed us having to order more than we plan on. We don’t provide towels or anything, but a lot of people bring their own shampoo and conditioner and body wash.”
Rickstrew said shower rates are typically kept low in an effort to attract climbers out of Rifle Mountain Park to come into town and not only take a shower but visit area businesses as well. The increased influx of foot traffic, however, has prompted city officials to possibly increase the municipal pool shower rate to between $4 and $5.
“We have a wide variety of people that stop. Our delivery driver for Vistar — which we get all of our food through — he said that truck stops charge between $12 and $15 a shower,” Rickstrew said. “So he was surprised to hear when we only charge $2.”
Meanwhile, with added motorists comes the increased need for gas.
The closures of Glenwood Canyon have been good to the local Go-Fer Foods gas station in Rifle, said clerk Jennifer Gonzalez.
“Last week, we were doing like $20,000 days here,” she said. “So it was pretty busy.”
This week, however, has slowed down some, she said.
“But the reason I think we’ve been busy is because a lot of the gas stations in town were out of gas,” Gonzalez said. “It seems like, because of the canyon being closed, they weren’t getting their gas deliveries.”
Oddly enough, the extended closure of Glenwood Canyon via Interstate 70, which initially produced a positive effect foot traffic-wise on hotel stays in the Rifle area, is now resulting in less people filling vacancies.
Hampton Inn & Suites front desk receptionist Bria Knot said the Rifle hotel’s 92 guest rooms were filled on a consistent basis up until recently.
“We weren’t exactly booked out just every night — we happened to sell all the rooms, and that was going on every single night up until about a week ago,” she said. “And we’ve been selling out still; there’s just been two or three nights that we haven’t. So just a little bit less.”
As to why?
“People know about the closure beforehand,” Knot said. “So they’re not booking the rooms if they’re not going to go through the detour.”
But not everyone got the memo when it comes to roadway detours in Rifle.
The Colorado Highway 13 bypass in Rifle, which helps motorists circumvent traveling through the heart of the city, is still not absorbing enough traffic to alleviate some of the traffic issues.
Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein said these issues are not only due to the closure of Glenwood Canyon but a large construction project that has been unfolding in downtown Rifle since March.
Since the closures of Glenwood Canyon, the Colorado Department of Transportation has been strongly advising motorists traveling westbound on I-70 to head north on Colorado Highway 131 from Wolcott and take State Highway 40 through Steamboat Springs. Eventually, motorists head west toward Craig, then take Colorado Highway 13 south toward Meeker and on to Rifle.
But when they arrive in Rifle, Klein said most of the motorists simply continue on through Railroad Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare, instead of taking the bypass.
“It’s significantly increased our traffic obviously along Highway 13,” he said of the Glenwood Canyon closure. “But also, people will bypass the detour thinking they can get around and get back on (I-70) and head east, which is not the case.”
Klein said because of traffic traveling through town as opposed to around it, it’s created a gridlock at the intersection of Centennial Parkway and Railroad Avenue. When this happens, West Avenue — typically used as a residential side street — becomes further inundated with motorists.
“That really should not be happening if people would pay attention and take the detour at the Highway 13 bypass,” he said. “At least it would be lessened a great deal.”
But, when it comes to the continued issues with Glenwood Canyon, Klein speculates that traffic issues could persist in Rifle well into the future.
“I’ve heard people estimate that this will continue for the next two years, and I’ve heard four years,” Klein said. “So I think we’re going to be dealing with this for quite some time.”
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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