Updated: April 7, 2013 at 12:00 am
Teller County and Woodland Park officials reached out to the U.S. Forest Service in a plea to have Rampart Range Road reopened in case floodwaters pour out of the Waldo Canyon burn area and close U.S. 24.
The four-lane, main artery from Colorado Springs to Woodland Park felt the effects of water flowing out of the ash-laden mountains on July 30.
Tons of mud and debris were dumped onto the roadway near Cascade, forcing a closure that lasted about 12 hours.
While the National Weather Service said up to 2 inches of rain fell that day in some parts of the burn area, the region just north of Cascade only received about a half inch.
For Woodland Park city manager David Buttery, a 12-hour closure is not the concern. He is more focused on a “catastrophic event” that could wash away the highway and sever the artery for days, or even weeks.
Rampart Range runs through the burn area and has been closed since the June fire blackened 18,000 acres. Now, officials say, it could serve as a lifeline.
Buttery said the weeklong closure during the Waldo Canyon fire “did impact our sales tax revenue, not horribly, but there was a negative trend.”
The Woodland Park official said the city has built up its economic reserves in case of a closure, but Buttery said local businesses will be the victims if U.S. 24 and Rampart Range Road are inaccessible.
“From the merchants’ perspective, every single day and every single sale are critical,” Buttery said.
Buttery and Teller County sent letters to Jerri Marr of the U.S. Forest Service in March, citing both economic impact and emergency access as reasons to make sure Rampart Range Road is an alternate route to U.S. 24.
Teller officials pointed to the week of the Waldo Canyon fire in June 2012, noting that “the number of visitors dropped to 30 percent of visits in 2011, along with a decrease in sales tax and business revenue,” according to the letter signed by county commission chairman Dave Paul.
The Forest Service is yet to make a decision on the road.
Some Teller County business owners and officials aren’t as concerned about floods hitting U.S. 24.
“The last time it closed, they had it up and running within hours,” said Adele Faber, owner of Joanie’s Bakery and Delicatessen in Woodland Park. “If one side washes away, cars could be rerouted to the other side.”
Cripple Creek city administrator Ray White said the casinos and the southern Teller County town pitched in to make sure bus services were getting tourists to Cripple Creek during the Waldo Canyon fire.
With U.S. 24 and Rampart Range Road closed, buses went from Colorado Springs through Cañon City and Guffey.
“The hotels and casinos were pretty responsive,” White said, noting, however that there was some loss of business because a “45-minute commute turned into about two hours.”
History near Woodland Park shows that floods pouring out of wildfire burn areas can ruin roadways and disrupt life.
In early July 2006, more than 2 inches of rain fell in the Hayman fire burn area north of Woodland Park along State Highway 67.
The rainwaters caused an 80-foot wide flood that devastated about 8 miles of the highway, which was closed for almost a month.
Mark Rabaut, owner of the Country Lodge in Woodland Park, said, “It would have a drastic effect if they close 24. We’re hoping that doesn’t happen.”
Rabaut and other business owners choose to stay optimistic.
They agree that the Colorado Department of Transportation has been working hard to mitigate keep U.S. 24 open.
And weather patterns, especially in the mountains, can be very unpredictable.
“When an event happens, that’s when people will begin to be concerned,” Buttery said.