Bike ride helps heal scars on Independence Pass |

Bike ride helps heal scars on Independence Pass

Courtesy Mark FullerAbout 15 tons of snow fencing was removed from Independence Pass southeast of Aspen last year with the help of a helicopter. The work was part of an ongoing Independence Pass Foundation project to remove old fencing from the high-alpine tundra.

ASPEN – The Independence Pass Foundation doesn’t have any major construction projects planned this summer for the first time in several years, but rest assured the nonprofit still needs donations from the popular Ride for the Pass on Saturday.

The foundation is in a transition time. It has completed major construction projects to stabilize the hillside at what’s known as the top cut, a mile or so below the summit, but it hasn’t raised enough funds yet to sink its teeth into two additional major projects at the Tagert Cut and Difficult Cut, closer to Aspen. Construction of the road decades ago made cuts so steep that vegetation won’t grow, and rockfall is always a danger. Erosion creeps up the hillside, like the unraveling of a garment when a loose thread is yanked.

“That will be a $1 million fix for each of those projects,” said Mark Fuller, executive director for the Independence Pass Foundation (IPF).

It will take a few years to raise enough funds to undertake any work at the lower cuts. In the meantime, IPF has plenty to do with ongoing revegetation and tweaking at the top cut. Various volunteer crews will plant 800 to 1,200 additional seedlings of native tree species. More compost blankets to stabilize the soil and encourage new growth will be rolled out upslope of where a retaining wall was constructed along Highway 82.

Work on the top cut started in 1996 with runoff control, rockfall and erosion control, slope reconstruction and wall construction. More about the work can be learned at

The organization will also continue its mission to remove unsightly snow fencing and related materials that were scattered on the high peaks during a long-ago abandoned project. About 13 tons of fencing material needs to be removed from the Mountain Boy vicinity east of the summit in a September project, Fuller said.

IPF relies on the Ride for the Pass for 20 to 25 percent of its annual revenues. This is the 16th year for the ride, which is probably one of the most popular “signature events” staged by any Aspen-area nonprofit. The ride from the winter closure gate to the ghost town of Independence is popular because Highway 82 is still closed to vehicles. The route gains about 2,500 feet in elevation in 10 miles.

There is a race at 9 a.m. and a recreational ride at 9:15 a.m. The fee is $40 for individuals and $70 for families of up to five. Registration starts today at Aspen Velo, Community Banks of Colorado in Basalt and Ute Mountaineer. It is also online at

Race and ride participants must be at the starting area to pick up a timing chip prior to 8:30 a.m., Fuller stressed. The crews handing out the chips must then depart for the finish area.

A party for participants will be held at the Sky Hotel at or around noon.

The event typically raises about $25,000 for IPF. It also depends on private donations outside of the event, contributions from the city of Aspen and Pitkin County, and grants to raise funds for its projects. It will also need a partner, like the Colorado Department of Transportation, to tackle the work at the Tagert and Difficult cuts.

Fuller said the goal at both sites will be to control where rocks fall rather than revegetation. The frayed areas are so steep it isn’t realistic to rebuild and revegetate them, he said. The intent will be to improve safety rather than heal environmental damage. Those projects might have to wait; the state transportation department has no funds.

“They barely have enough money to fill the potholes,” Fuller said.

The Ride for the Pass is one of several events on a weekend being billed as the Aspen Cycling Festival.

Saturday will also feature a group fun ride from Aspen to the Woody Creek Tavern, then up to Lenado. The event will start at 4 p.m., travel down Upper River Road to the tavern, then up Woody Creek Road. The ride is free but it won’t be held if it is raining.

The action-packed Aspen Criterium race will be held Sunday on the downtown course that features 10 corners in a 0.9-mile loop. The event was sanctioned for 2010 by USA Cycling, the official governing body for all disciplines of competitive cycling in the U.S. The first events start at 8:30 a.m.

The entry fee is $20 in advance and $30 the day of the race. Preregistration is available at There is a $7,200 total purse available for winners in various categories.

There are also events on the pavement, such as a party at the Ajax Tavern from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday. The $20 fee includes dinner, music and entry to listen to cycling experts.

Support Local Journalism