GLENWOOD CANYON, Colo. (KDVR) — Managing the damage from the Grizzly Creek Fire last summer is an ongoing battle for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The fire created devastating burn scars, which means wide open mountain slopes for summer rain waters.
The moment you enter the canyon you can see them; some areas are worse than others. It’s a 16-mile stretch along I-70 where CDOT is seeing constant problems on both sides of the highway.
“The magnitude of what we are seeing in this area is enormous,” Shoshana Lew, CDOT’s executive director, said. “Some of these mudslides were 8 to 9 feet, stretching hundreds of feet in distance.”
The sides of the mountains look like dried riverbeds. Charred trees cannot stop the rainwaters from dragging rocks and debris over sections of I-70 and into the Colorado River.
In July, a storm brought huge rocks down Devil’s Hole on the south side of the canyon. The slide is now blocking the flow of the river.
“It was estimated that it could happen, but it was unexpected that it would come clear across the river and basically dam the river completely up against our highway,” Mike Goolsby with CDOT said.
Water formed its own new channel right along the eastbound lanes of I-70, which is concerning for CDOT, as this could undermine the concrete foundation and potentially lead to a collapse.
“We are comfortable right now, but the longer it goes the more impacts there are to it. That’s why we need to move the channel,” Goolsby said.
While regrowth will be the ultimate solution in healing the canyon, crews tackle new challenges every day the best they can.
“For the same reason it’s beautiful and is a place where people come from around the world see, it makes it a challenge to manage and it means there are going to be these events that are bigger than human control,” Lew said. “The humility that comes with it as we learn how to respect nature as we reconcile with the challenging things that have happened here, is going to be a humbling process.”
This summer in the canyon there have been at least 10 closures on I-70 from either mudslides or warnings from the weather service. If there’s a flash flood warning, the highway will shut down between Rifle and Dotsero.