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The South St. Vrain Canyon
You have to wonder about Alonzo Allen and what he would think about our modern improvements to his road from Lyons to the unnamed valley in front of Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak. It wasn’t very far, but the way up presented a real challenge when it came to building a road. True, there was wood for the cutting and there might even be gold, but the ascent was steep and the canyon was narrow and winding. So it’s not surprising that much of his road bypassed the canyon on its northern side.
The first road in the canyon was difficult to maintain, not only because the road itself often slid into the stream, but because it required a number of bridges over the twisting stream and they often washed out in the spring.
The easier but much longer route was from Ward, which was the terminus of the narrow gauge railroad from Jamestown. Then you could use the road from Nederland, first used by horse drawn carriages and then by cars and Stanley Steamer busses to reach Estes Park. That road became, for much of its route, the highway that now runs through Tahosa Valley. The only remaining portions in its original state are some sections of Cabin Creek and Big Owl Roads.
Today, of course, we all use the highway in the canyon, first paved in the 30s and made wider and straighter in the 50s. On a clear day in the winter one can drive from Allenspark to Lyons in less that 20 minutes. Alonzo would be astonished.
On the other hand, while the trip up or down Alonzo’s road could be long and difficult, nobody ever got killed. The canyon road now takes a predictable toll every year, as drunks cross over and meet cars head on or busses and cars are mishandled and wind up in the stream. But we accept those hazards as part of the price of living and working in this place and most of us try to be careful. The other day I was driving past the Hilltop Guild and the van in front of me tried to slow down, slid on a patch of snow and rear-ended a stalled truck. Parts and glass flew everywhere but fortunately no one was hurt. Another reminder, I thought, not to take canyon travel for granted.
One of the hazards we apparently can’t do anything about, however, is the spot people use to shoot their guns, just at the lower entrance to the canyon. It’s just a few feet from the roadway, and it’s been in use for as long as I can remember, which goes back to the 40s. Ever since that time people have been shooting into a small section of dirt and rocks. There used to be trees there but they’ve all been shot to splinters. At various times there have been bottles, cans, and even a television set used as targets. Accurate figures are impossible, of course, but it’s probable that more than 2,000 pounds of lead have been deposited in that spot and the lead no doubt leaches into the South St. Vrain Creek, just 100 yards away.
No one has ever been shot accidentally at this spot, according the Boulder County Sheriff, and since I began inquiring about this hazard in 1988 I’ve had no luck in getting anyone to take the problem seriously. The State Patrol said it was Boulder County’s problem and Boulder County said it was the Forest Service’s problem and the Forest Service said “The Forest Service allows the discharge of firearms on National Forest lands where done safely and in accordance with established regulations. The shooting range along Colorado Highway 7, between Lyons and Allenspark, is one such area where firearm use is allowed. This range has been examined by the National Rifle Association, several State and County agencies and the Forest Service, and found to be safe.”
The NRA’s finding, is, of course, a great comfort.
But the “applicable regulation,” the Federal Code of Regulations, Chapter 36, par 261.10 (d) says “The following are prohibited: Discharging a firearm or any other implement capable of taking human life, causing injury, or damaging property: (1) In or within 150 yards of a residence building, campsite, developed recreation site or occupied area, or (2) across or on a Forest Development road or a body of water adjacent thereto, or in any manner or place whereby any person or property is exposed to injury or damage as a result of such discharge.” The underline is mine.
I don’t know about you, but I always feel “exposed to injury or damage” when I drive by that place and I see people drinking beer and shooting guns a few feet from my car.
I’m not so sure Alonzo would want to trade places with me.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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