Independence Pass is officially scenic |

Independence Pass is officially scenic

Janet Urquhart
Vail, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” It’s official: The drive over Independence Pass is a scenic one.

The Colorado Transportation Commission has approved the extension of the Top of the Rockies scenic byway route by about 40 miles to take in Independence Pass, east of Aspen, and the town itself.

The extended route follows Highway 82 over the pass between Twin Lakes and Aspen, ending west of Aspen at the Maroon Creek bridge. The pass, which isn’t plowed in the winter, is scheduled to reopen May 24, weather permitting.

While no one has argued that Highway 82 over the 12,095-foot pass isn’t scenic, in the past, travelers heading out of Twin Lakes toward Aspen encountered a sign along the highway noting the Top of the Rockies scenic byway was ending ” shortly before what is arguably the most scenic stretch.

The Independence Pass Foundation, an organization dedicated primarily to restoring the high-alpine environment where it was scarred by construction of the roadway over the pass, took the initiative forward.

It’s unlikely the new designation will result in a marked increase in traffic on Independence Pass, said Mark Fuller, the foundation’s executive director.

“I think most people who look for a scenic byway, when they get to Twin Lakes, don’t necessarily stop because it’s not a scenic byway anymore,” he said.

In fact, some communities already along the Top of the Rockies route were disappointed the designation didn’t boost traffic, Fuller added.

With the addition of Independence Pass, the byway is now a 122-mile route. Several 13,000-foot peaks ring the pass, including Mount Champion, Geissler Mountain, Twining Peak, Grizzly Peak and Casco Peak. Mount Elbert, the state’s highest peak, and other fourteeners in the Collegiate Peaks range are also visible along the route.

Motorists can begin the byway at Minturn or Copper Mountain, traveling over Fremont Pass between Copper and Leadville on Highway 91 or over Tennessee Pass between Minturn and Leadville on Highway 24, then take in the section between Leadville and Aspen on highways 24 and 82.

The Twin Lakes-to-Aspen extension requires approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which probably will not occur until 2008.

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