A lot on the line
After fatal accident, many hands pull together to open safer parking patch at County Line
It didn’t take Mike and Jan Edson long to notice the changes with the parking situation at the County Line Nordic Area on Grand Mesa.
“We didn’t even need to come up here to know it would be better,” Mike said Sunday while standing in the new parking lot. Nearby, his wife, Jan, and skiing companion Randy Campbell, all from Paonia, readied for a trip on the area’s groomed trails.
“This is our first trip up here this year, but we can see how much it’s improved,” Mike said. “The other parking lot was just too small.”
The long-awaited parking lot — initial plans were being developed as long as eight or nine years ago, according to members of the Grand Mesa Nordic Council — is set well away from busy Colorado Highway 65 and has plenty of room for the crowds that often made the older, smaller lot dangerous.
“This is the way it should be,” a satisfied Dave Hartley of Montrose said as he unloaded a day’s worth of ski gear for himself and his family. “There’s plenty of room for everyone, and there’s room for all the dogs and kids you see up here.”
Although the Nordic Council and Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest for years had recognized the need for safer parking, the money for construction was tied up in depths of the federal budget.
“I had gotten a grant for the bathrooms and stuff, but the main funding was from a federal grant, and that got lost in the federal funding process,” Nordic Council board member Dave Knutson said.
GMUG spokeswoman LeeAnne Loupe said the forest and the Grand Valley Ranger District had been applying for grants and competing for federal funding to improve the parking access, but they weren’t expecting any money before 2017.
“We knew the use had increased, and people were parking on the side of the road and something needed to be done,” Loupe said. “We worked with the state to plow a wider area by the road for more parking, but even that would fill up.”
The work gained a new priority a year ago when Glen and Linda Eyre of Grand Junction died after they were hit by a car while crossing the old parking lot, which was full to overflowing at the time.
“The old lot was too crowded, you often saw people parking along Highway 65,” Knutson said. “That’s why the accident happened. And when Skyway (Nordic Area) is full like is it today, there wasn’t a place for the overflow to park.”
After the accident, the Forest Service “got together with Mesa and Delta counties, CDOT and the Nordic Council and generated a lot of interest,” Loupe said. “We wanted to know what our options were to make this a safer place.”
Without full funding, it was a matter of many hands pulling together, Loupe said.
“We decided we could make some progress with getting an alternate facility prior to getting the 2017 money,” Loupe said. “We developed a partnership and found out that with all our partners we were able to get it constructed.”
Mesa and Delta counties contributed a great deal of time and manpower in in-kind contributions, including earth moving and construction, Loupe said, and the state Department of Transportation agreed to temporarily waive its requirement for acceleration and deceleration lanes on Colorado 65.
The changes include better signage at the entrance, separate men’s and women’s restrooms, a changing room and enough parking space for 80 vehicles.
Nearly 50 vehicles were parked in the County Line lot last Sunday, with vehicles leaving and arriving in a near-constant stream. Meanwhile, dogs, kids and skiers sporting several generations of ski gear wandered among the neatly arrayed vehicles.
“I think it’s great to see how the different agencies were working together on this,” former Nordic Council President Christie Aschwanden said. “That in itself was a bit of a challenge, with all the layers of bureaucracy, but it worked out for the best.”
Loupe agreed, saying, “It was great the way everyone came together, and we were able to make this happen.”
But it’s not yet finished, she said.
“Some things we’re still working on, like we still hope to get the parking area paved,” she said. “But we’re thankful all our partners shared in this.”