133-mile Scenic Byway plan undergoing update

Ranch buildings nestle next to a lake below Thimble Rock, left, in the valley of Unaweep Canyon near the divide. Unaweep Canyon is geologically unique in that East Creek and West Creek flow out opposite ends of the canyon.

Beginning this month, and well into next year, people from three counties will be working with a Longmont-based firm to update the corridor management plan for the Unaweep/Tabeguache Scenic Byway that runs across 133 miles of state highway from Whitewater to Placerville.

“This corridor was designated in 1989-1990, so it’s going to be 25 years old in 2014,” said Chris Miller.

“It’s time to update it,” she said.

Miller is executive director of the Colorado Interpretive Association, the nonprofit group that is administering a Colorado Department of Highways grant for the plan update.

Earlier this month, her group signed a contract with Advanced Resource Management Inc., of Longmont to provide a new corridor management plan for the scenic byway that includes parts of Colorado Highway 141 and Highway 145. The byway runs through Unaweep Canyon, the Dolores River Canyon, past Nucla, Naturita and Norwood, through San Miguel River Canyon and on to Placerville.

In addition to its natural beauty, there are historic features such as the Driggs Mansion near Gateway, the Hanging Flume in Dolores Canyon and numerous old mining sites. The byway also provides access to countless recreational opportunities.

Scenic byways are designed to recognize natural, historic, recreational and other qualities and boost economic opportunities in the area they pass through, Miller said.

“We realize all our communities only have so much money to spend,” she said. “The question is: How do you capture the traveling visitor as they drive through an area?”

In that regard, it isn’t just this single byway that’s important, Miller noted.

“In our region, there are three BLM national conservation areas within 60 miles of each other, six scenic byways within two hours drive, a national park and a national monument, millions of acres of national forest and BLM lands,” she said. “We are America’s backyard. We need to put together a package to tell everyone what’s available.”

A new corridor plan for the Unaweep/Tabeguache Scenic Byway can be part of that package.

Meetings will be held in Grand Junction and Montrose next month to begin gathering input for the corridor plan update, Miller said. Beginning early next year, stakeholder meetings will be held in each of the communities along the corridor, with the public invited, she said.

The plan is scheduled to be completed by late summer of next year.


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