Chaffee County commissioners approved the closure of the far western terminus of C.R. 162 in St. Elmo during their regular Tuesday meeting this week. The closure will allow for St. Elmo building renovation and historic stabilization work on the Stark Bros. store/home, Comfort Hotel and Cash Criss buildings. The closure will begin May 14 and continue through Nov. 16.
The request to close the end of C.R. 162 within the limits of the town site of St. Elmo was presented by historic preservation advocate Melanie Roth, president of Historic St. Elmo and Chalk Creek Canyon. It will stop auto traffic at the intersection of First and Main Street.
“We’re making the request basically for public safety,” said Mike Pershbacher, owner of Older Than Dirt, the historic preservation company handling the project. “The road isn’t wide enough to get the heavy equipment in and out with traffic on it. We’ll allow only pedestrian traffic on the south side of the road and we’ll adjust the closures as soon as the public danger is less. We’ll put in a T-post in the walkway so they can walk, not drive, and use red plastic construction fencing.”
Roth said the group is working with the three property owners who live beyond this closure and using pliable fencing wide enough so a resident could get in but blocking auto traffic while equipment is in use. The flexible fencing style will allow for emergency vehicle access.
This is not the first time St. Elmo building renovation projects or other events have shut down the end of the road in the historic town site. Roth said this same type of closure has been done successfully for several years, including when the group holds special events on west Main Street.
Commissioners voiced concerns about summer tourism traffic. Between June and August, tourism can put 1,000 to 2,000 people a day up in the historic town site, all traveling a single county road.
“We’re trying to be proactive. We’re providing a turn-around area down on Poplar for people with trailers,” said Roth. “As much as we can, we’ll park trailers along CR 162 and the Grizzly parking area. I’ve called the forest service to ask if it could do directional parking at the Grizzly area for trailers, and the smaller area will be for passenger cars. The concern is that lot gets filled with cars for all-day hikers and no one else can use it.
“There’s a lot of people up there in the summer. Basically, the message is, you don’t plan on driving through St. Elmo this summer – you plan on walking,” said Chaffee County Road and Bridge Superintendent Mark Stacy. “I’m more concerned with the trailers (that will be) parked along 162. Yes, I’ll help with the traffic signage, but people are going to do what they’re going to do. Who’s going to enforce this?”
The St. Elmo building renovation has been made possible by a grant from by the Colorado State Historical Fund. It is allocated specifically for stabilization of the the Stark Brothers store and home, Comfort Hotel and the Cash Criss Building foundation and roof.
“There is going to be some disruption, but if we don’t do this work, there won’t be anything up there for anyone to go to and visit,” said Pershbacher. “The bottom line is we’re trying to save the buildings.