Before Independence Pass opens to vehicles next week, a local nonprofit is encouraging cyclists to enjoy the empty road, for a cause.
The annual Ride for the Pass is the largest fundraiser for the Independence Pass Foundation, which does restoration work in the national forests that surround the scenic byway. The foundation has 20 projects scheduled for 2018, which range from trail building to scientific research.
In one study, the foundation will work with other area nonprofits and Colorado State University to begin researching the impacts of climate change in the Roaring Fork Valley. Two others look at the plant and wildlife species that make their homes on Independence Pass, including a study of the health of pika in the area.
“This is a great opportunity for citizen scientists out there,” said Karin Teague, executive director of the Independence Pass Foundation.
In the pika study, volunteer scientists will be working with the conservation organization Rocky Mountain Wild. That research will likely start in late July.
Much of the land on Independence Pass is congressionally designated wilderness, which is the highest level of conservation protection. Teague explained that this comes with benefits, like pristine ecology and solitude for hikers, but it also has its challenges.
“When there is work that needs to be done, whether it’s trail work or removing old rebar or snow fencing, we do need to abide by wilderness regulations which means no motorized, no mechanized assistance," she said. "This even includes wheelbarrows.”
This year, that means the foundation is enlisting the help of the U.S. Forest Service’s mule team for a big project to remove old fencing near the top of the pass.
The Ride for the Pass can raise up to 10 percent of the foundation’s annual budget, Teague said. It starts at 10 a.m. this Saturday at the winter closure gate on Independence Pass.