County prepares for the winter’s end |

County prepares for the winter’s end

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado
NWS Spring prep. 1 KA 4-15-11

EAGLE COUNTY – Winter might look pretty when everything is covered in white, but its aftermath can be quite ugly for local crews who have to clean everything up before late spring and summer arrive.

This is the time of year when we start to see all of that ugliness lurking beneath the snow. As it melts, we see things such as sand and gravel covering the roads, mud, dead grass and all of the lovely dog waste that hasn’t been picked up all season.

“The winter and this time of year, up until the Fourth of July, is probably our busiest time,” said Vail Streets Superintendent Charlie Turnbull. “We’re just cleaning up everything from winter.”

Winter’s wrath can be seen from bike trails to golf courses, upvalley to downvalley. The various maintenance crews in every local municipality are working day in and day out to make sure the transition into the next season runs smoothly.

“There’s a lot going on as soon as everything thaws out,” said Brad Higgins, Eagle County’s road and bridge director. “You just keep moving from one thing to another.”

Higgins said the county’s street-sweeping program is under way, removing all of the residual sanding materials on the roads from winter. The county uses powered sweeping machines to pick everything up and haul it all away.

Irrigation ditches are being cleaned and checked, and crews are sealing the cracks along roads and bridges throughout the county, said Eagle County Public Works Director Tom Johnson.

“Every spring, we’ve got to clean up. It’s a challenge because we’ve got such a short window,” Johnson said.

Skiers and snowboarders might have another week of the season left at Vail Mountain – and many will continue to ski throughout the summer in the backcountry – but many local sports enthusiasts who are ready to break out their bikes and hiking boots would have to wait a lot longer if it weren’t for the massive valleywide spring cleanup.

Turnbull said the town of Vail is opening up all of its bike paths next week, which means more snowplowing work has to be done.

“Everything from Cascade to Lionshead needs to be plowed and opened up,” Turnbull said.

The Vail Recreation District has already started working on the Vail Golf Course, which is scheduled to at least partially open up by the third week in May, said Executive Director Mike Ortiz.

“We are cleaning greens because the grass needs to get exposed to the sun,” Ortiz said. “Soil temperatures take so much time to warm up and get growing – that’s why we shovel off the greens.”

While there’s probably still enough snow on the course to Nordic ski, Ortiz said the course needs all the help it can get this time of year in order to get ready for a late May opening.

“It needs temperatures a lot warmer than what we have right now,” he said.

Vail Recreation District crews also will begin putting up soccer, tennis and volleyball nets so people can have something fun to do during mud season, Ortiz said.

This time of year is one of the busiest for the Vail Recreation District, he said.

“The phone is ringing off the hook right now,” he said. “Everyone’s trying to make their plans, especially (working) parents who are trying to figure out where to put their kids this summer.”

Ortiz and the recreation district welcome the business this time of year, a time when everyone is kind of ready to move on from winter, he said.

Downvalley, a lot of work on trails was able to get going early because the climate is so different than it is upvalley, said Ellie Caryl, the ECO Trails program manager.

“(Downvalley doesn’t) have the later snowstorms or the same number of storms, so there’s less debris to mop up,” Caryl said.

The difference in the weather is helpful, she said, because it gives crews a chance to work their way upvalley rather than have to scramble to get everything finished at the same time.

ECO Trails work includes sweeping and repairs, as well as patching up areas that might have gotten damaged during snow plowing. Trails that are close to the roads, such as the trail through Dowd Junction, get a lot of gravel on them and need a lot of sweeping and shoveling in order to open for the season, Caryl said.

“This is the time to spruce up,” she said. “To make everything safe, make the grass grow and make sure nothing is covered with cinders. It makes it so everything looks as good as it can, and functions well.”

While a lot of the valley’s clean up can happen now, even though crews know there will be more snow before the winter season is officially over, some projects will have to wait until the snowstorms become a thing of the past.

Projects like magnesium chloride treatments on gravel roads, for example, which keeps dust under control, won’t get finished until about the first of July, Higgins said. The county treats about 115 miles of road with magnesium chloride for its dust abatement program.

The town of Vail’s flower planting program also won’t begin until preparations like aerating and cleaning out the flower beds has been finished, Turnbull said.

Town of Vail crews also use something called a lawn comb to clean up all the dead grass from winter which helps new grass grow.

“Flower planting won’t start until around the end of May or the first of June,” Turnbull said. “We’ve got to get all the composting in. Usually we wait until after Memorial Day Weekend.”

The various fleets that maintain the county’s roads, bridges and trails also need to be switched over from winter to summer, Johnson said, although that is a relatively easy project compared to the rest of the work that needs to be done. The county doesn’t dare switch everything over to summer all at once, though, because everyone knows a snowstorm could easily show up in May.

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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