Hot springs access debated

Road's condition raises questions from residents

— County officials, law enforcement and homeowners sought common ground Wednesday morning.

They tried to identify viable solutions to the increase in traffic and accidents on the small stretch of County Road 36 that leads up to Strawberry Park Hot Springs.

"The whole point of this meeting is to get some feedback, especially from the people who live up there, as to what the options are," county planner John Eastman said.

The forum, required by the Hot Springs Planned Unit Development, produced possible alternatives to the Routt County Commissioners' recent move to amend an existing county ordinance that requires motorists to equip their vehicles with adequate snow tires, chains or four-wheel drive between Nov. 1 and May 1.

The ordinance, if amended, would require all motorists to put chains on their vehicles whenever there is snow on the section of C.R. 36 that goes to the hot springs.

Area residents suggested studded snow tires would lend just as much traction to vehicles as chains.

A secondary application of scoria would also help to reduce the tendency of motorists to lose control of their vehicles, they said.

Continual shuttle service from the parking lot to the hot springs surfaced as a possible solution to congestion during the summer and winter months and motorists falling prey to poor winter road conditions.

Don Johnson, owner of the hot springs, has said his business generates traffic on the road.

But he cannot be the sole source of solutions to the problem, he said.

"For 20 years the pressure's all been on me to answer every one of these questions," Johnson said. "The county hasn't done anything to improve that road. I think it's about time the county address the issue."

M.B. Warner, a property owner along the road, shared her disappointment about the negative effects of development on C.R. 36.

The road no longer resembles the country lane she knew when she first purchased her property, she said.

"If the hot springs wasn't there, it wouldn't be an issue," she said

Johnson was concerned he would have to shoulder the expense of a shuttle service if one was implemented to curb traffic.

The expense would inevitably fall on the shoulders of his customers, he said.

"That's a huge expense," Johnson said. " We don't gross that kind of money."

He said he purchased the property more than 20 years ago with the intention of offering the hot springs to the general public, and higher prices would only exclude customers.

Visitors to the hot springs average between 20 percent and 27 percent shuttle utilization during the winter.

A 30 percent goal has been set for 2004.

"I would like to see it happen during the summer as well, but unfortunately the shuttle service is not available," Eastman said.

Participants in the forum admitted that improving shuttle ridership depends on much more than the availability of shuttles.

People prefer to drive their own cars rather than take public transportation, Johnson said.

With summer traffic now replacing winter traffic, residents asked for help in dealing with the problems caused by a high volume of vehicles, horses, bikers and pedestrians.

"Summertime traffic has already started," Warner said. "It's outrageous."

State law mandates that dust control be implemented when daily traffic on a road exceeds 125 vehicles, said Paul Draper, director of the county's road and bridge department.

The lack of gravel on C.R. 36 presents a challenge for dust control, but the county was committed to improving conditions for people who live along the road, he said.

"Could we do some more summer maintenance?" Draper asked.

"You'd better believe it."

It didn't make sense for the county to give C.R. 36 minimum maintenance when so many people used the road, property owner Joe Mangione said.

"Here we're a tourist town, and it's a well-traveled road," he said.

Draper suggested the county might need to consider surfacing the road in the future.

"Paved roads are cheaper to maintain for the level of service in the long run than a gravel road," he said.

Area residents said they did not want to go that route and resolved to find alternatives that would work just as well.

"When you do that (pave the road), you change the whole character of the area," property owner Chan Spear said.

Law enforcement representatives offered their concerns about the potential of chain restrictions to tax their already strained resources.

The Colorado State Patrol investigates accidents that occur on the county road, but the Sheriff's Office would be responsible for issuing citations to motorists caught without chains.

Ken Klinger of the Routt County Sheriff's Office said snowy nights have required two of the available three patrol cars on duty to respond to accidents on the steep, narrow road.

"The rest of the county gets forgotten while we're dealing with that four-tenths of the road," said Sgt. Duane Bradley of the Colorado State Patrol.

Bradley said he supported placing scoria on the road to protect not only motorists, but also to ensure the safety of his troopers.

The most effective solution is scoria, he said.

"I would rather do that than have the ordinance requiring chains for everybody because that's an enforcement problem," he said.

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