On April 29, a sinkhole began forming on Highway 133, between Somerset and Paonia, that grew to cause massive road damage resulting in a total road closure that lasted nearly two months.
The sinkhole resulted from a strong spring run-off destroying a culvert that ran beneath the highway. On Monday, June 19, the Department of Transportation (CDOT) announced that a temporary bridge is now open, ten days ahead of the contractor’s deadline. Commercial motor vehicle traffic is restricted to 85,000 lbs and an 11-foot width, and the speed limit for all vehicles is 40 mph through the work zone.
Since the road closure began, businesses in the North Fork Valley — known as the state’s “organic bread basket,” with beloved food and wine experiences — saw impacts ranging from inconvenient to wholly negative. These included folks living in the North Fork Valley and working in the Roaring Fork Valley having to take a long alternate route, and ranchers struggling to transport livestock.
Goat farmer David Miller and his cheesemaker wife, Suanne, established their farmstead creamery, Western Culture, after purchasing their land in Paonia in 2015. They and four employees distribute their cheeses in the Roaring Fork Valley, Telluride and Grand Junction areas, as well as the North Fork Valley.
According to Miller, the road closure caused an evolving disruption of the economics of the North Fork Valley in aspects of commerce and livelihood. “It’s impacted our business as far as our agri-tourism and customer flow go. It has severely impacted the businesses around us as well, because we rely on that nice flow of customers from over the hill,” Miller said.
Miller opined that action wasn’t taken quickly enough. “Where the sinkhole happened is a corner of Gunnison County, which isn’t popular and doesn’t provide a lot of tax base to Gunnison County. Therefore, in my opinion, it was put on the backburner as far as priority. I believe that this could have been attended to quicker, faster and more efficiently,” he said.
Steve Steese, co-owner of Storm Cellar Winery, which he runs with his wife, Jayme Henderson, said that while their business has still been getting good traction and customer flow from the Front Range and within their community, they have been missing the “transient” tourism traffic from folks who make day trips to the North Fork.
“We had so much traffic last year from Carbondale and the rest of the Roaring Fork Valley, and we just want that to continue,” Steese stated. He elaborated that he hopes Roaring Fork Valley residents will again support the business now that repairs are complete.
“The hard part is that, as a seasonal valley, with the loss of a whole month, it almost doesn’t matter how busy the rest of the summer is. It’s very difficult to make up for the lost month,” Steese concluded.
For updates on the temporary and permanent repairs to Highway 133, visit cotrip.org
Paonia, nestled beneath Mt. Lamborn, was severed from the Crystal Valley in early May by a failed culvert crossing Highway 133. Businesses in the North Fork Valley experienced a consequential drop in visitation. Photo courtesy of Storm Cellar Winery