Buffalo Pass Road too rugged? Forest Service officials eye improvements
May 25, 2017
U.S. Forest Service officials in Steamboat Springs are attempting to secure millions of dollars to make the bumpy drive up Buffalo Pass to the Continental Divide safer, easier and smoother.
"The road itself has started down this path of being a problem," Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears District Ranger Chad Stewart said last week.
Stewart said the district office sought $3.2 million in federal grant funds this year to improve Buffalo Pass Road, known as Forest Service Road 60, where it runs from Dry Lake Campground about seven miles to Summit Lake.
But the project came in second in the Colorado region for an internal Legacy Road grant and instead received only $124,000 in funding.
Stewart said that money will be used to start doing some planning and put the road in a better position for a future grant application.
"We're getting closer and closer to the end goal I have of improving this road," he said. "We've got to keep applying and keep competing."
The grant funding followed a recent safety audit of the road that recommended a long list of changes, including an improved road surface, better signage and the widening of the road in some places.
Stewart said the safety audit was ordered after Forest Service employee David Girty lost his life when his truck went off the side of Buffalo Pass Road and rolled about 180 feet down a steep embankment.
Investigators were unable to determine what caused Girty to go off of the road.
Stewart said he'd like to see the road become an easily maintained, gravel road that's wide enough for two cars to pass each other all the way up to Summit Lake.
He noted the road that leads to the summit of Buffalo Pass from Walden is in better shape.
The Forest Service would also like to expand the Dry Lake Campground.
News of the ongoing efforts to improve the road raised some questions at a Routt County Board of Commissioners meeting earlier this month.
Some in the community have wondered whether improving the road would lead to an influx of cars in a part of the National Forest that already sees some heavy traffic at lower elevations.
"Some of my predecessors have felt like not improving the road would limit the use (on Buff Pass), but that's not the case," Stewart said. "I say let's fix the use and disperse that use" further up the pass.
He said from Dry Lake to Summit Lake, there are about 71 dispersed campsites.
A campground that was created on top of a culvert is a sign of how used the area has become at lower elevations, he said.
Stewart thinks that when the windy, bumpy road is improved, campers, hikers and other forest users will start going further up the mountain pass to access areas that aren't being heavily utilized today.
In its current state, Buffalo Pass Road is more accessible and easier to drive at lower elevations.
Higher up near Summit Lake, vehicles often use the entire road to drive around rocks, dips and other obstacles.
"There are campgrounds up there, including the Granite Campground (at Fish Creek Reservoir), that never get used, because nobody wants to drive up there," Stewart said.