By Bill Tiedje
Drivers heading over Owl Creek Pass (Forest Service Road 858) on weekdays to view fall colors or to go big game hunting should be prepared for delays of up to two hours as the U.S. Forest Service performs major road work and drainage repairs on the mountain road this fall.
According to a USFS statement, road maintenance work began on Sept. 16 and will continue until work is limited by snowfall this winter. Roadwork is occurring from the USFS boundary (on the Ridgway side of the pass) to the top of the pass.
The road will be open with minimal delays on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the duration of the project.
In recent years, Owl Creek Pass Road has deteriorated significantly. Heavy traffic, above average rainfall and inadequate drainage structures all contributed to make it a bumpy ride.
In a phone interview on Sept. 21, USFS public and legislative affairs representative Lee Ann Loupe said, "This year was a pretty wet year."
Loupe said the USFS road crews would initially be focused on getting water off the road.
This work will involve installing new culverts and wing-ditches as well as cleaning existing culverts.
"It's a little bit of everything," Loupe said.
Additional gravel and road fill will also be applied.
Although portions of the road are subject to Ouray County's Schedule A cooperative road maintenance agreement with the USFS, this project is being undertaken solely by the USFS.
"This is a lot more involved than what we would consider maintenance," Loupe said. "In some ways, it's road reconstruction."
Loupe cautioned that hunters may experience road delays while drainage structures are installed, but access to hunting areas will not be impacted.
Ouray District Ranger Tammy Randall-Parker said in the Sept. 17 statement, "The District has received numerous complaints and concerns about the road condition on the Owl Creek Pass Road, and we are working to restore the road to its previous condition. We ask the public to be patient and we apologize for any inconvenience that this work may cause. However, the work will benefit the public and Forest users in the long run.”