Trail head, site of tragedy, gets large, safer parking lot

A sign posted along Colorado Highway 65 at the County Line parking lot on Grand Mesa is in memory of Glen and Linda Eyre, who died last winter at this parking area.



Construction crew members walk the leveled ground where the new 84-space parking lot at County Line trail head will be located, well away from the busy Colorado Highway 65. Construction was speeded up after two cross-country skiers were killed in January by an errant vehicle.



A blue memorial sign near the County Line trail head on Grand Mesa pays tribute to Glen and Linda Eyre.

The outdoorsy Grand Junction couple were killed in January when they were run down by an errant vehicle in the parking lot while they were doing an activity they enjoyed—cross-country skiing.

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service had long prioritized revamping the popular but dangerous pull-out off Colorado Highway 65 at the Delta-Mesa County line. While improvements had been slated for the parking area, design changes and plans that may otherwise have taken a few more years to come to fruition were put together within a matter of months, said Doug Marah, engineering technician for the U.S. Forest Service.

On Wednesday, crews operated bulldozers, leveling ground in preparation for an 84-space parking lot located well away from the roadway.

“It was in the process,” Marah said from the muddy construction zone on Grand Mesa. “Everything that happened was a tragedy. We’re trying to make the best of everything we can.”

Plans for the parking area stalled for years because of a lack of funding, Forest Service spokeswoman Lee Ann Loupe said.

The more than $1 million in improvements at the Skyway trail head and County Line trail head that outdoor enthusiasts will see this winter are possible thanks to a collaboration of agencies.

County Line’s trail head won’t be paved until next summer, at the earliest. New restrooms and a changing room also are slated for the site. Eventually, the roadway will be paved to include lanes for motorists to accelerate and decelerate as they near the parking area.

Agencies that contributed to the new parking area include Delta County, which provided labor and equipment to grade the new lot, and Mesa County, which provided materials for the project. The project also received funds from the Grand Mesa Nordic Council, a federal National Scenic Byways grant, a federal Secure Rural Schools grant, the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado Department of Transportation.

In years past, the Forest Service has upgraded parking areas at the Mesa Top trail head and parking for snowmobile users in the Lands End area.

Forest Service officials also have identified the Ward Lake and Jumbo Lake trail heads as being potentially dangerous.

At both pull-outs, there is little room for expanding parking lots off the roadway because the terrain is too severe.

“The challenge is there’s not that many options,” said Bill Edwards, district manager for the Grand Valley Ranger District.

While snowmobile users pay fees to register their vehicles, cross-country skiers and snowshoers are asked to donate to the Grand Mesa Nordic Council either by becoming a member or donating at the trail heads. The nonprofit organization is expected to spend $55,000 to $65,000 on grooming trails and maintenance this upcoming winter season, board member Dave Knutson said.

Knutson said he is impressed with the feedback among government agencies since the Eyres were killed.

“We’re getting a completely different level of cooperation than before,” he said.

Christie Aschwanden, a former president of the Nordic Council, echoed that sentiment.

Aschwanden and other members of the Nordic Council for years had been telling local government authorities that the County Line trail head was too dangerous. It is located on the crest of a hill with blind corners in each direction. High snowbanks and motorists parking along the roadway when the former parking lot filled quickly contributed to dangerous conditions.

“I think it’s a thrill to see all these entities come together,” she said. “It’s tragic that two people had to die to get this through. This is going to make a big difference.”

The speed limit in that stretch of roadway had been 55 mph, but CDOT lowered it to 45 mph and added caution signs after the fatal crash.  CDOT crews also regularly plowed the County Line trail head lot and other parking areas on Grand Mesa, although they are not required to do so.


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