Travel

Rick Enstrom Rips Polis's Glenwood Canyon Disaster Response

One reason that Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon is closed indefinitely.
One reason that Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon is closed indefinitely. Colorado Department of Transportation
Mudslides shut down Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon late last week, and the damage they caused was so extreme that on August 2, Governor Jared Polis announced that officials were "readying a state disaster declaration and a request for a federal declaration with the Biden administration." But neither of these actions has been finalized — and even if they had been, Rick Enstrom, namesake of Enstrom Candies, an iconic business located in Grand Junction, would be unimpressed by the governor's response to the indefinite closure of this vital route across the state.

"If John Vanderhoof was sitting in the governor's seat right now," Enstrom says, referencing the man who served as Colorado's chief executive from 1973 to 1975, "the entire state would be mobilized over this. We wouldn't be making declarations. We'd be effecting change."

Because of the mudslides, he adds, "the lifeline to Western Colorado has effectively been cut, and we have a governor who doesn't give half a shit about it because they didn't vote for him."

Enstrom isn't a nonpartisan observer of this situation. He's a behind-the-scenes powerhouse in Colorado Republican politics and served an eight-year stint as wildlife commissioner during the administration of GOP governor Bill Owens. While he is now semi-retired, he and his wife, Linda, opened assorted Denver-area branches of Enstrom Candies, and both remain closely involved in the operation of the firm's Cherry Creek flagship, located at 201 University Boulevard. (Full disclosure: I'm a longtime friend of Enstrom's.)

Assorted Enstrom Candies products are also available at Costco stores and other retail outlets, and the company ships its signature toffee and other treats across the country and around the globe. But since Enstrom's factory remains in Grand Junction, where it's been for nearly a century (the company's roots go back to the late 1920s), I-70 access is absolutely key to business operations, and detours necessitated by the closure add hours of travel time in both directions.

click to enlarge
The Enstrom Toffee & Confectionery factory, corporate offices and original retail outlet are located in Grand Junction.
Photo by Michael Roberts
"You've basically got two other routes in and out of Grand Junction that cannot support that amount of traffic," Enstrom says. "You've got to go through Cheyenne to the north, or you've got to go to Cañon City and Gunnison, and neither of them are great options. There's also Cottonwood Pass, but that's a country road; some of it is unpaved. And Independence Pass doesn't really work, either. That's single-lane road in some places, and you can't put any truck traffic on it."

Extra time and fuel costs aren't the only issues for the business. "Keep in mind that we've got to transport ice cream between Grand Junction and Denver," Enstrom points out. "So this is becoming a real challenge. And we're not alone. There's a lot of big industry in Western Colorado now, so a lot of people other than us are having very serious supply-chain issues."

And the negative effects go further. "One of the biggest industries in Western Colorado is tourism," he notes, "and when you've got to make a seven-hour drive instead of a three-and-a-half-hour drive, it's murder."

Colorado Department of Transportation crews are hard at work addressing damage to the roadway in Glenwood Canyon, and at an August 2 press conference, CDOT director Shoshana Lew explained that her agency "is focused on two immediate areas of concern: removing debris so that we can scope the needs for permanent repairs, and focusing on sections of the viaduct structures where the parapet and scallop walls have been destroyed. Beyond these immediate priorities CDOT’s operational concerns include establishing safe westbound passage through the canyon for CDOT staff, the Shoshone power plant dam, and Xcel. Reestablishing consistent power will be necessary for CDOT operations staff to resume normal operations of the Hanging Lake Tunnel complex. Given the extensive damage to some areas, it will be some time before traffic can move in the manner it normally would."

Still, Enstrom thinks that Polis should be pouring even more resources into the area rather than opting for lip service. "Declaring things does not fix things," he says. "That whole corridor has been neglected for generations, and now we're having to pay the piper. This is horrendous."

The Colorado Department of Transportation recommends that westbound motorists from metro Denver exit I-70 at exit 205 (Silverthorne) and travel north on Colorado Highway 9 toward Kremmling, at which point they'll head west on U.S. Highway 40 and then south on Colorado 13 before returning to westbound I-70 at exit 90 in Rifle. Eastbound travelers are advised to take the same route in reverse. For the latest traffic advisories related to Glenwood Canyon and other locations around the state, visit cotrip.org.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts