On August 17, 2012, U.S. Forest Service employees led a team of mules to the ridge southwest of the Independence Pass summit to retrieve rebar material. This was the last remaining snow fence debris to be removed from the Pass, and marked the culmination of a 17-year effort.
Leadville Ranger District personnel: Jon Morrissey, Ranger; David Lovato, Safety Officer; and Wildlife Biologist Jeni Windorski, Recreation Special Uses Administrator, and Doug Sheffer, DBS Helicopters.
Charlie Hopton celebrates cleanup of snow-fence material from one area of the Pass summit. His wife and IPF Board Secretary Heather Hopton was a major advocate of this long-term project before she passed away in 2004.
The Independence Pass Foundation most visible and dramatic project over the past several years was the removal of tons of old snow fence material from the ridge tops along the summit of the Pass. This work has been underway, in one form or another, for the last 17 years. National Guard and private helicopters have removed old snow fencing material in the past, and volunteers have spent countless hours disassembling and stacking snow fence debris for future removal. Inmates from the Buena Vista Correctional Facility have been an enormous help throughout this long-term process.
The snow fence was part of a water development project dating back to the 1960s. The original intent was for the snow fence to create dense windrows of snow and ice that would melt off slowly, thereby allowing for more spring runoff to be captured in Colorado's reservoirs and aquifers. For reasons that remain obscure, the project was discontinued, and the half-assembled snow fence was abandoned on the ridges surrounding the Pass summit. The fencing, consisting of metal sheets and bars 12- to 15-feet-long, remained on the fragile alpine tundra where it was left, choking out plant life and creating a safety hazard and an aesthetic nightmare.
In 2009, years of planning and organizing came together as a private helicopter from Trans-Aero Helicopter Services out of Fort Collins, arrived at the Pass along with 18+ volunteers, a Forest Service crew from the Leadville Ranger District, and an inmate crew from the Buena Vista Correctional Facility. Nine hours later, nearly 90 loads of fencing had been hauled off the high points north and south of the Pass and collected for recycling. In 2010, with the help of Doug Sheffer and DBS Helicopters, IPF completed removal of the vast majority of the old snow fence debris that had littered the tundra around the summit of the Pass for decades.
In 2011, we returned to the old snow fence areas to remove the rebar and other small debris that were left behind when we removed the larger fencing material. Years ago rebar dowels were pounded into the ground to act as anchors for snow fence. Protruding up to a foot above the ground, these dowels posed a hazard for hikers and skiers, and were unsightly as well. Using specially-designed jacks, our inmate crew levered the rebar out of the ground along the summit ridge south of the summit, removing hundreds of rebar rods and stockpiling them for future removal.
On August 17, 2012, U.S. Forest Service employees led a team of mules to the ridge southwest of the Independence Pass summit to retrieve rebar material. This was the last remaining snow fence debris to be removed from the Pass, and marked the culmination of a 17-year effort. Motorized vehicles are not permitted in designated Wilderness Areas, and consequently IPF has depended on helicopters in previous years to carry away the material.
We are confident that with the help of our many volunteers and partners we will be able to restore the tundra to its natural state over the next few years.