Improve lot safety now, Grand Mesa skiers say
Something needs to be done immediately to keep other skiers or snowshoers safe in parking areas on Grand Mesa. That was the consensus of a group of about 20 people who gathered in Delta on Tuesday night to discuss the next step after local Grand Junction couple Linda and Glen Eyre were killed by a errant vehicle at the County Line trail head on Saturday.
Grand Mesa Nordic Council hosted the meeting to gather ideas. The group has been working for years to get an expanded parking area or at least signage encouraging motorists to slow down near the popular cross-country skiing and snowshoeing areas off Colorado Highway 65.
However, group members felt their pleas for help to the Colorado Department of Transportation, which manages the roadway, and the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the public land, largely went unheard and plans were slow going for the County Line pullout. Construction on an expanded parking area there is planned to begin later this summer, but it probably won’t be finished until 2014.
In the meantime, this winter season is in full swing and recreationalists are sure to flock to the sunny Grand Mesa for outdoor fun. Council members want to avert the potential for another tragedy.
“There really is no excuse for it not being done,” Nordic Council president Annie Murphy said of the pullout or signage. “A sign can be done right away.”
Murphy said the Council will try to encourage motorists to slow down. They’ll also attempt to inform skiers and snowshoers that County Line isn’t the only trail head where dogs are allowed. They also are allowed in the Ward Lake trail system. Murphy said members will be encouraged to contact their elected officials and request changes. She is meeting with officials from CDOT, the Forest Service and Mesa County in the next few days to try to facilitate some changes.
“We should be asking them, demanding that a speed-limit reduction occur,” she said.
The posted speed limit is 55 mph. Council members say that speed is way too fast for motorists to enter or exit the pullouts or when pedestrians are loading or unloading near the road.
Still raw from the deaths, some suggestions centered around shutting the parking lot down or suing the Forest Service.
Ironically, the Eyres were former Forest Service workers and were wearing clothing with the Forest Service’s insignia when they were killed, members said.
Delta County Commissioner Bruce Hovde, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said he agreed the pullout needed to be revamped, but pointed out that change takes time. Already, he said, CDOT crews plow some areas outside of their jurisdiction on the mesa “out of the goodness of their hearts.” The Forest Service has steadily been working to improve pullouts and has created better access for snowmobilers and improved several other trail heads.
“There is a bunch of bureaucracy. I don’t know what I can do,” Hovde said. “Both Delta County and Mesa County are committed to construction of the parking lot. They’re doing it with discretionary funds. I wish it would have happened (the pullout being expanded) when Christie (Aschwanden) approached me five years ago.”