Hot springs' route gets chained

New restrictions will apply whenever snow is on road

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— Because authorities are experiencing an increase in traffic and accidents on County Road 36, Routt County is changing its restrictions for the road that leads up to Strawberry Park Hot Springs.

The county is now requiring all vehicles to have chains on whenever there is snow on the road. Motorists caught without chains could be fined as much as $500.

"All vehicles will have to have chains period," Routt County Sheriff John Warner said. "It is time to look at how we do things and make some changes."

However, the owner of the hot springs and a county commissioner are skeptical this restriction will solve the problem plaguing the Colorado State Patrol.

Since January, the road has had its fair share of accidents, which have tied up troopers.

The Colorado State Patrol, which has the task of investigating accidents on the road, pushed for the chain restriction. Authorities claim restrictions in place were not working.

Prior to the change in policy, vehicles were allowed to travel on the steep, narrow road if the vehicle was equipped with adequate snow tires, chains or four-wheel drive. The restriction is enforced each year between Nov. 1 and May 1.

In March, Sgt. Duane Bradley notified county officials that accidents are increasing on the road.

According to the state patrol, 20 percent of the accidents since January in the county have occurred on the county road.

"The state patrol does have a problem," Commissioner Dan Ellison said. "They spend a lot of time up there dealing with things."

Commissioner Doug Monger said he is doubtful the chain restriction will make things easier for the state patrol.

"I don't think this will solve the problem 100 percent," Monger said. "The rate of accidents is unacceptable.

"Fortunately, none of the accidents have resulted in injury. I feel like we are living on borrowed time."

Don Johnson, who has owned the hot springs where the road ends, said he has been battling the county for the past 20 years on trying to make the road safer.

"They (the county) have been trying to control and manipulate the rural road that leads to my business," Johnson said. "The county has tried to put the road problems off on me. The road needs to be fixed."

Johnson said he has taken it upon himself to close the road during the winter when weather conditions make the road treacherous.

"Road conditions can change quickly up here," he said. "It can create a real nightmare. There are turns where the road is dangerous."

Johnson said his business does generate traffic on the road, but residential development is also contributing to the problem.

"There is more development occurring," Johnson said. "They need to do something about it. After 20 years, something needs to be done."

Johnson said county crews do an outstanding job maintaining the road during the winter months but said the road needs to be widened.

"By not addressing this issue, the county is creating a dangerous situation."

To enforce the chain restriction, Warner's office will be responsible for issuing citations to motorists caught without chains.

The county's Road and Bridge Department is in the process of putting up signs warning motorists of the chain restriction.

Ellison said the county department is also considering to cover the road with sand after it is plowed next winter. County officials will also discuss the possibility of widening the road.

"I don't think we have all the answers," Ellison said. "But the problem takes care of itself when it warms up."

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