New winter travel restrictions have been enacted for the upper parts of La Plata Canyon in response to an uptick in passenger vehicles becoming stuck in the snow.
La Plata County commissioners Tuesday unanimously adopted the new seasonal closure, which calls for closure to passenger vehicles at the second turnaround on County Road 124, about a quarter mile past the end of the pavement near an existing cattle guard and about 5 miles from U.S. Highway 160.
La Plata County Public Works Director Jim Davis said a gate likely won’t be installed in time for this winter season, and the county will instead use a snow berm to limit access.
In the future, the gate will be closed or a snow berm will be constructed by Dec. 15 or when there’s enough snow on the ground to warrant the restriction, Davis said.
The area would be closed to passenger vehicles but remain open to all forms of recreation. La Plata Canyon is a popular area in the winter for backcountry skiing, snowmobiling, dog sled rides and other activities.
Property owners in the canyon will be given a combination to the gate to access their properties during winter.
Several residents of La Plata Canyon spoke Tuesday in favor of the travel restriction.
“It’s a trap the way it’s set up right now,” said Tom Miller.
Miller said he has seen families with small children in tennis shoes, T-shirts and no shovels get stuck in the canyon during the winter.
“There’s an awful lot of people who unknowingly start down there and get into trouble,” he said. “It’s just not a good situation.”
Jesse Scarantino, a year-round resident of La Plata Canyon, said he’s witnessed “quite a few people” get stuck up there. Two times last winter, people who got stuck started shooting guns out of boredom.
“It’s gotten a little wild up there in the winters,” he said.
Jason Aweida said he’s lived in La Plata Canyon for 16 years, “seeing all sorts of levels of odd activity that occur up in the canyon.” He said it’s not uncommon for people to ask him for help getting out.
Jodi Peterson, who has also lived in the canyon about 16 years, said she has seen people illegally cutting down Christmas trees. And she said damage to the road is a major issue.
Commissioners all agreed a seasonal restriction on passenger vehicles would go a long way in protecting the public and conserving emergency responder resources.
“If you’ve been up there in the winter, you’ve probably seen a car stuck,” Commissioner Julie Westendorff said. “This is a reasonable action to protect those people from making bad decisions.”