New ‘Glenwood Gondola’ installation keeping Caverns employees busy in other ways

Staff report
Lupita Ochoa cleans dust from the cave formations with shop vac in the area of the Glenwood Caverns known as "The Barn." With the Caverns closed for the tram installation this winter, employees have been working to clean the park from top to bottom.

Though Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park has been closed this winter for installation of the new tram system, the park’s employees have been anything but idle.

And, the main reason for the seasonal park shutdown has resulted in a new name for the primary transportation device used to access the popular Glenwood Springs tourist attraction.

Since late October, the park’s maintenance crew and a contract team from Leitner-POMA are busy replacing the Iron Mountain Tramway.

The new, higher-capacity, more-efficient tram will go by the new name, the “Glenwood Gondola,” Caverns General Manager Nancy Heard announced Wednesday.

“We’ve chosen a new name to emphasize just how much difference it will make in our guests’ experience,” Heard said. “The 44 detachable cabins that won’t stop on the way up or down the mountain are going to more than triple our capacity and decrease the ride time.

“So, instead of waiting in line at the base or the top during peak season, our guests can spend that time enjoying the park.”

In the meantime, other departments are busy upgrading, renovating and repairing park infrastructure, and even the natural caves themselves.

“It was really important to us to be able to keep our full-time, year-round employees on the payroll this winter,” Heard said. “Since it is difficult to complete large-scale renovations while the park is open, we’re keeping everyone busy by making improvements throughout the park.”

One of the biggest projects is taking place in the cave section known as “The Barn,” a large room located in the lower section of Glenwood Caverns.

Walkways constructed of decking material are being replaced with concrete, which is intended to provide better footing, and steel handrails. A new route has eliminated seven steps and allows guests to walk among the rocks rather than above them.

“Extreme care was taken to ensure that no living cave formations were damaged in the process of building the pathway,” according to a news release explaining the off-season work that’s being done.

To protect the air inside the cave from dust, a double tent houses portable concrete mixers and bagged concrete that’s mixed by hand in small batches.

“After 20 years, it’s time to replace the old decking materials with something more permanent, so we are using concrete and stainless steel,” said Kathy Miller, natural attractions manager for the resort. “We’ve been working on this for a couple of years now; this is phase three of four.”

In addition, cave staff members have been busy dusting formations with shop vacs fitted with attachments typically used to clean computer keyboards. They also do a gentle wash, remove lint and hair that collects over time, and check, replace and reset light bulbs, among other repairs and maintenance.

The food and beverage department is also taking advantage of the down time to scrub and clean its areas from top to bottom.

“The opportunity to clean this deeply does not come very often, so we are removing everything and getting in there with toothbrushes,” said Food and Beverage Manager Bob Stepniewski.

Upgrades are also taking place in the general store and with the various amusement park attractions, as well as involving park infrastructure.

In conjunction with the tram replacement, utility lines that were previously attached to the tram cables are being buried.

“This was a big, long-term job that consisted of trenching 4,500 feet down the mountain,” according to the news release. “The benefits of having these lines underground include the ability to pump water continuously, whereas before the park could only pump water when the air temperature was above freezing.”

At the midpoint of the tram replacement project, Heard said everything is on track for a grand opening celebration in March.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.