Removing the Snow Fences

In 2012 and 2013, teams of mules led by U.S. Forest Service employees were used to pack out snow fence debris. Forest Service regulations prohibit the use of motorized vehicles in designated Wilderness Areas.

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.

Snow fence removal work has been underway for years. 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.

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.

IPF reached a significant milestone in 2013 with the removal of the last of the small bits of trash and debris from the area south of the Pass summit. This popular hiking destination was littered with old rebar, cable, nuts and bolts, and miscellaneous metal left over from the abandoned snow fence project dating back to the 1960s. IPF has been working with the U.S. Forest Service and others for years to remove the abandoned snow fence and associated debris, and in 2013 the Forest Service mule team returned to pack out the last of it and complete a final clean-up of the most heavily-used of the several original snow fence locations.  

The work is not finished as debris remains to be removed from north of the highway and from the Mountain Boy Gulch area on the east side of the Pass. We will continue with this project in those locations in the coming years.