GRANBY —The idea to recreate historic methods of transportation while generating funds for a modern major highway improvement project spawned from a Grand County Commisioner.
“On a personal note, I just wanted to ride my horse to a commissioners meeting,” said Grand County Commissioner Merrit Linke, speaking to the generations of his family that have lived and ranched in the Grand Valley. “And then I thought, why not turn it into a benefit ride?”
The ride will benefit the Highway 9 project, which serves as a major transportation corridor for Summit, Grand, Jackson, and Route counties. The project aims to make the highway safer for motorists by creating wildlife buffers including wildlife crossings and fencing, 8-foot shoulders, and realignment of the roadway.
Linke, whose family has been in the valley since the 1880s, will be leading the horse ride from his family’s ranch near Granby along the historic stage and freight route over Cottonwood Pass to Hot Suphur Springs.
The ride will highlight some of the historic landmarks along the old trail while riders head west to attend a special meeting of the Grand County Commissioners, during which pledges to the project will be announced.
The project has a very positive vibe surrounding it, according to Linke, and has drawn a wide range of support from municipalities, private individuals, and nonprofits.
“To me it is a worthwhile project and the feeling is if we can’t get it to go this time, it won’t work,” Linke said.
To complete the project, Grand County Commissioners with the help of the Citizens for a Safe Highway 9 Committee, need to raise 20 percent of the project’s total cost of $46 million, or $9.2 million, to receive funding from the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships (RAMP) program.
The RAMP program seeks to expedite important road improvement projects in the state. To qualify for RAMP funding, local governments must raise 20 percent of the total cost of a venture and submit an application that explains why a project should be put on a fast track for completion.
Highway 9 has been the scene of at least 590 accidents since 1993, many of which involved wildlife, and has claimed 16 lives and caused 191 injuries. Since 2006 there have been 455 documented wildlife fatalities from the Summit County line on the highway to the Colorado River crossing just south of Kremmling. The highway has been ranked among the top 100 miles in Colorado impacted by wildlife migration.
The project has already received a $4 million dollar matching grant and $945,000 pledge from the owner of Blue Valley Ranch, located outside of Kremmling and owned by billionaire hedge fund manager Paul T. Jones. The project has also received numerous pledges from private individuals including a $100,000 pledge from Grand County Commissioner Gary Bumgarner and his wife Jennifer.
Commissioner Linke hopes to raise more than $5,000 for the project through the benefit ride. “This is a total nonprofit venture for us,” Linke said.
The ride will take place on Friday, June 21, and participants will be fed a traditional ranch-style breakfast at 7 a.m. sharp before heading west around 8 a.m.
The ride will end at the Hot Sulphur Springs Museum, where the Grand County Historical Association will serve a barbecue lunch.
A major sponsor stepped forward and has allowed the cost of the ride to be reduced from $500 a person to $250 a person. Riders are welcome to bring their own horse, or one can be provided for you.
Spots are still open for the ride. Contact Commissioner Linke at 970-531-0438 or 970-887-2973 for more information or to sign up.
More information about the Highway 9 project, or to pledge, visit grandfoundation.com.
Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334