Legacy of Grizzly Creek Fire, 2021 rains reshape recreation in Glenwood Canyon
Glenwood Canyon recreation is back in (mostly) full swing after last summer’s mudslides, with the canyon bike path and boat put-ins open, Grizzly Creek trail hikeable (to a point) and the Hanging Lake trail reopening for fee-based access later this month.
But visitors should anticipate a bit different of an experience just two years removed from the devastating Grizzly Creek Fire and the record rains that resulted in massive mud and debris flows in late July and August 2021.
Just like last year, any threat of heavy rain over the burn scar will shut things down and people will be asked to evacuate for safety’s sake, explained those who have been working to get the picturesque canyon ready for people to enjoy again.
The Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado State Patrol, U.S. Forest Service and others will be on standby whenever the National Weather Service issues a flash flood watch or warning.
A watch will mean the rest areas, bike path and other trails will be cleared of people and closed temporarily. A warning will trigger a closure of Interstate 70 where it passes through the canyon.
But CDOT, the city of Glenwood Springs, trails groups and Forest Service crews have been busy getting the canyon as ready as it can be for the summer season.
Recently, professional trail crews with Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers wrapped up work to restore the lower 2 miles of the Grizzly Creek Trail, which was heavily damaged by last year’s flooding.
“We had two areas of damage from the mudslides and the spring runoff, at right around 2 miles in and just past there,” said Jacob Baker, director of communications and strategic partnerships for RFOV.
“At one spot, the material that came down over the trail was about two times my height,” he said. “And, there will probably be more material coming down those chutes again this summer.”
The work involved removing large trees and rocks from parts of the trail and rerouting about 135 feet of trail, Baker said.
Trail damage above the 2-mile point is much more extensive, and the risk of additional slides and rockfall more significant, he said. For that reason, the trail is only accessible to that 2-mile point.
Baker said they discovered some “geologically interesting things” in the process of assessing what needed to be done, including new creek channels and even underground springs coming up in new places.
“What I’ve been telling people is that, as the landscape changes our priorities have to change with that,” Baker said. “We do hope to have some good rains this summer, but if we see the rains like we did last year it’s almost certainly going to cause further changes to Grizzly, and potentially No Name (Jess Weaver Trail) and Hanging Lake.”
Access to Hanging Lake for those who make reservations and pay the fee to hike the trail starting June 25 will also have a different, more primitive hiking experience.
Crews have been able to repair and replace the bridges that washed out, but there are still spots where the trail passes over some of the debris flows that washed through Deadhorse Creek and over the trail.
The three-year, more than $3 million plan by the Forest Service, working with the National Forest Foundation, is to rebuild the trail in those areas in a way to avoid damage from future flood events.
Baker said a lot of people have been asking about volunteer opportunities with the trail restoration work. But, because that work is rather technical, it’s mostly being handled by professional trail crews, he said.
“We do have some different kinds of restoration work happening at the rest areas where we can put people to work,” he said.
Days worked: 4.5
Trail maintained: 2 miles
Corridor maintained/cleared: 2 miles
Trees cleared: 17
Trail rerouted: 130.5 feet
The debris flows also significantly impacted the Colorado River at the bottom of Glenwood Canyon, which includes several popular whitewater runs for rafters and kayakers.
But recent river restoration work that was part of CDOT’s extensive I-70 repair project has returned those stretches of river pretty much back to normal, said Patrick Drake, co-owner of Blue Sky Adventures in Glenwood Springs, one of the many local rafting outfitters.
“There are a few changes to the river that our guides have been made aware of,” he said. “But with the channel work, the current flows are very much back on track to where they were pre-mudslides.”
The spring runoff also worked to remove some of the strainers and other debris near the Shoshone rapids, he said.
While professional guides are aware of some of the technical nuances of navigating the river that have changed, Drake advised that private boaters take some time to scout the river first before setting out.
“It’s always a good idea to go out along the bike path and take a look to see what might be different, so you’re prepared,” he said.
With the bike path now fully open from Glenwood Springs on the west to the Dotsero trailhead on the east, Drake said Blue Sky’s bike rentals have also been popular as summer nears.
“People are glad to have the canyon views and the Colorado River back,” he said.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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