Closed for business

U.S. Highway 285 was shut down for almost two and one half days, as ice and blowing snow created dangerous driving conditions. Park County had to shelter over 700 stranded passengers in Fairplay during that period, with many volunteers supplying food, blankets and bedding to the stranded motorists. (Photo courtesy of the Colorado Department of Transportation)

A perfect storm of road closures, weather and holiday traffic helped the Park County Sheriff’s Office, emergency services and community volunteers work off their Thanksgiving holiday meals.

By the early afternoon Nov. 29, Interstate 70 was shut down in both directions, due to rockslides that blocked the highway. Holiday travellers, whether headed to the high county ski areas or to visit family, were advised by the Colorado Department of Transportation to use U.S. Highway 285 and Colorado 9 to get around the road closure.

This diversion of mountain travellers resulted in bumper-to-bumper traffic throughout South Park, Bailey and even as far back as the Safeway in Conifer.

These drivers were not prepared for what waited for them in South Park. Thursday night, there was a light dusting of snow, and by Friday afternoon, Highway 285, from Kenosha Pass to Fairplay, was as slick as an ice skating rink.

Eventually on Friday, Highway 285 was closed from Kenosha to Fairplay. CDOT also closed the highway from Fairplay to Antero Junction. Even Hoosier Pass on Colorado 9, north of Fairplay, was sporadically closed.

Fairplay dispatch had to send tracked vehicles to pick up stranded motorists along Highway 285, and by Friday evening, there were 299 people sheltered in Fairplay. Some of those people were sheltered in the community center but had to be moved after the power went out and relocated to South Park High School.

Saturday, the county was still busy recovering stranded vehicles. Even local residents had trouble in their neighborhoods, with multiple slide-offs in subdivisions and local streets.

By Saturday night, there were another 446 people sheltered at the high school. David Kintz Jr., chairman of the South Park Salvation Army and county coroner, related that there were about 30 volunteers from the Salvation Army, the county’s CARE team and volunteers from two local churches who helped the sheltered motorists.

Food was provided by South Park Community Church, the high school, local stores and from some of the volunteers’ homes.

Local hotels, which became totally booked up, allowed people to use hallways and community spaces to bed down.

By Sunday afternoon, most of the travellers had left the shelter and hotels and continued on their way after Highway 285 was reopened about 3 p.m.

But even as late as Tuesday morning, the PCSO was trying to contact owners of cars still abandoned in Fairplay.

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