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Landslide Causes Economic Problems For Ouray

Red Mountain Pass, Highway 550, Ouray
Laura Palmisano

In January a massive landslide closed Highway 550 through Red Mountain Pass for a month while crews cleared debris. 

That stretch of Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway connects the city of Ouray to the town of Silverton. Construction on the highway resumed in April to repair damage and place chain covers over the areas most susceptible to rock movement.

Last week, Ouray declared a state of economic emergency as a result of the natural disaster.

Pacie Merling, a brewer and bartender at Ouray Brewing Company, said the landslide and the restrictions on Red Mountain Pass have affected business.

“It has definitely impacted our brew schedule," Merling said. She said the brewery had to shorten its schedule by 250 gallons based on projected sales for the first two weeks of June.

Bruce Gulde owns souvenir shop Mountain Fever.

“We did notice when [the pass] first closed that we did see a downturn in business, probably about 20 percent," Gulde said. 

Mountain Fever, Ouray
Credit Laura Palmisano
Bruce Gulde, who owns a souvenir shop in Ouray, said sales were down 20 percent with the first pass closure.

Another factor also influenced business in the area, he said. 

“Some of the downturn was due to weather because we were still getting snowstorms and people weren’t traveling through," Gulde said."So the weather did have an impact on business in addition to the closure.”

Pam Larson, Ouray's mayor, said the city-owned hot springs pool has also shown a 20 percent decrease in revenue since the closure.

“We just declared an economic emergency based on the fact that the road has been closed and that it will still continue to be closed on a limited basis," Larson said.

The emergency declaration provides the community with federal and state assistance including small business loans. Larson said about 10 businesses in Ouray, which has a population of 1,000 people, have applied for the loans.

Over at the city's visitor center, Jessica Gray, a tourist from Illinois, called the pass construction an inconvenience

“It seems a little restrictive as to the times that you have to go and come," Gray said. "We probably will still go [to Silverton] because we really like the area and we can always come back through Durango so I don’t think it will impact [us] that much."

The Colorado Department of Transportation closed Red Mountain Pass between Ouray and Silverton from mid-January to mid-February.

The pass reopened in March, but closed again on a limited basis in late April.

People wanting to use that stretch of Highway 550 can’t Monday-Saturday between 8:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. The pass is open in the early afternoon for an hour on those days and all-day Sunday. 

Merling said she thinks people are reluctant to visit Ouray because they don't want to get stuck there waiting for the pass to open.

"April and May are typically really tough times in [Ouray] for small business owners because the ice park is usually closed by March," she said. "And, that pass thru traffic we receive when were not necessarily a destination really makes a difference.” 

Ouray Brewing Company
Credit Laura Palmisano
Pacie Merling, a brewer at Ouray Brewing Company, said she thinks people are reluctant to travel to Ouray because they might get stuck waiting for the pass to open.

The CDOT estimated the road will reopen in mid-June. Later this summer, the department said it plans on providing a longer-term solution for Red Mountain Pass.

The highway will be open for the Memorial Day Weekend starting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday through Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m.



Laura joined KVNF in 2014. She was the news director for two years and now works as a freelance reporter covering Colorado's Western Slope. Laura is an award-winning journalist with work recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, Colorado Broadcasters Association, and RTDNA. In 2015, she was a fellow for the Institute for Justice & Journalism. Her fellowship project, a three-part series on the Karen refugee community in Delta, Colorado, received a regional Edward R. Murrow Award.
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