Vallecito dam road retiring

Replacement ready for aging 72-year-old section

“When we realized fire engines couldn’t go across the dam, we realized something’s got to be done,” said Allen McCaw, the U.S. Forest Service engineer who oversaw the construction of Forest Service Road 603. The new road, left, will replace the old one, right, in early October. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

“When we realized fire engines couldn’t go across the dam, we realized something’s got to be done,” said Allen McCaw, the U.S. Forest Service engineer who oversaw the construction of Forest Service Road 603. The new road, left, will replace the old one, right, in early October.

VALLECITO – Public officials long associated with the reservoir here made a prefinal inspection Tuesday of the road that will replace the one across the top of the dam.

The final walk-through will be today, said Allen McCaw, the U.S. Forest Service engineer who oversaw construction of the 4,857-foot-long new road.

“It will open in early October, as soon as road signing and striping and seeding of bare areas is done,” McCaw said.

Designated Forest Service Road 603, the same as the dam-top road, it will provide access to the east side of the reservoir and existing FS Road 603 for year-round residents, second-home owners and Vallecito Nordic Club cross-country skiers.

The project cost was $3.5 million.

Represented on the tour were the Bureau of Reclamation, Forest Service, Pine River Irrigation District and Upper Pine Fire Protection District.

Construction began on the mile-long Vallecito Reservoir dam in 1938 and ended in 1941. The reservoir capacity is 130,000 acre-feet.

“Those were the days of donkeys, dynamite and slide rules,” said Mark Chiarito from the Bureau of Reclamation, which built the structure and owns the lake.

As a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the government ordered a re-evaluation of all public buildings and structures from the standpoint of security, Chiarito said. Vallecito Dam, although not a high priority, met the definition, he said.

About the same time, Forest Service officials decided that the 60-year-old dam was not what it used to be. Load restrictions had been placed on large vehicles crossing the dam.

“Just like people when they get old, the road couldn’t carry as much as before,” McCaw said.

The dam-top road will remain accessible to pedestrians, bicyclists and equestrians. Only motorized vehicles will be prohibited.

In 2004, Forest Service officials began to look for a new route to join Forest Service Road 603 on the east side of the reservoir with County Road 501, which runs from Bayfield to the community of Vallecito.

The new road takes off from County Road 501, but instead of going on top of the dam, it follows the base of the dam, crosses the spillway and continues to meet the existing 603 on the east side.

Construction began in March 2010.

daler@durangoherald.com

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