Independence Pass Foundation History

The Independence Pass Foundation was founded in 1989 by Bob Lewis of Aspen, long-time educator, environmental activist, and visionary. Since 1976, Bob had been sponsoring revegetation projects on the Pass through his Environmental Research Group, but it was clear that a more broad-based non-profit foundation was the appropriate mechanism for funding and managing larger projects on the Pass.

Bob assembled the first IPF Board, and the organization took on the reconstruction of the “Weller Curve” around Mile Marker 49. This large project involved relocation of Highway 82, reconstruction and revegetation of the roadside slope, and the development of a new parking area and trailhead for the popular Weller Lake Trail. The project required close cooperation between IPF, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Pitkin County, the U.S. Forest Service, and various private contractors. The success of this project provided momentum for IPF to pursue additional projects and set the pattern for ongoing cooperation between IPF and other local land management agencies.

Since 1996, IPF has focused on stabilizing and revegetating the Top Cut area of the Pass, a one- and one-half mile stretch of the most seriously eroded slopes just below the summit on the western side. Here, the environmental impacts of erosion extend for hundreds of feet above and below the roadway. These problems have steadily grown since the original 1882 stagecoach road was transformed into a highway for automobiles. Decades of erosion have damaged the fragile ecosystems and undermined alpine tundra and ancient wind-timber.

Since we began our work at the Top Cut, supporters have generously contributed funds to complete four of nine different sites that need to be

Ron Cattany, Colorado Department of Natural Resources (left), was instrumental in establishing and guiding IPF over the years. In 1998, Ramona Markalunas, then IPF Board President, awarded Ron and IPF Founder Robert Lewis Certificates of Appreciation for their many years of service to the organization and contributions to the Pass.

restored. IPF has led a team of partners in completing a variety of projects above and below the roadway at the Top Cut costing more than $2 million.

From the start, our work throughout the Independence Pass corridor has been a community endeavor. Hundreds of residents have spent countless hours building retaining walls; removing fence rails at the top of the Pass that have been damaging the alpine tundra for decades; and seeding, planting, and fertilizing the hillsides. A range of volunteers have participated, from Roaring Fork Valley school children to service clubs to Buena Vista Correctional Facility inmates. The lower slopes of Independence Pass have literally been transformed. All along the roadway, in once barren places, wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees are growing.

Bob's vision, when he founded IPF in 1989, was an ambitious one. While IPF's first project was the reconstruction of the dangerous "Weller Curve," his primary objective was the restoration of the "Top Cut." For decades, all along the Top Cut, erosion has been damaging four cosystems—alpine tundra, wind timber, spruce-fir forest, and sub-alpine meadows—and threatening the aquatic ecosystem of the Roaring Fork River. Bob's commitment to the Top Cut was passionate and enduring.