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A Disaster Could Pose Big Problems For Getting Out Of Grand Lake

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Highway 34 (credit: CBS)

Highway 34 (credit: CBS)

GRAND LAKE, Colo. (CBS4) – A 4th of July accident left drivers stranded for hours in Grand Lake because there’s only one road that goes in and out of town. CBS4 looked to see if there’s a plan in place to get people in and out of the area should something else happen there.

Bob Scott is one of the longest serving locals that can be found in Grand Lake.

“I came here in the 1960s to work at the Grand Lake Lodge,” Scott said. “The beautiful weather, the scenery, you know, it’s a great place. Living near this beautiful land and near the national park, it’s a great place.”

He says if Grand Lake is the heart of northern Grand County, Highway 34 is the only artery.

“It’s our lifeline of course and it’s one of those things that brings us all of our summer business. When 34 is open all the way to Estes Park it’s a tremendous boon to the business in this little town,” Scott said.

But that boon stopped on the Fourth of July.

“Nothing moving, just one traffic jam,” Scott said.

A fatal accident closed the road down for nearly six hours. Colorado State Patrol told CBS4 it’s the troopers’ obligation to fully investigate fatal accidents and it wasn’t possible to open the road.

“There were cars here that people had abandoned (until) the next morning when I came to work,” Scott said.

Highway 34 is the only paved road running north and south throughout the entire area. Surface streets in neighborhoods do not connect. Rugged terrain and a series of lakes are just a few of the reasons that eliminate the possibility for another road to be built.

“We just have one way and that’s how it works.”

But just one highway highlights just how fragile a situation the community lives in.

“I think this was the worst case scenario, short of having a fire, which would have the same sort of evacuation.”

“There’s no way to plan the types of incidents that can occur on that road. We just have to be prepared to act in what we’ve talked about in the past to be able to get people through and down that road as soon as possible,” said Nowell Curran, Grand County Emergency Manager. “If there was an incident in town, say a wildfire or some other hazard, then there are other plans in place to get them evacuated.”

The county Office of Emergency Management told CBS4 that even in the case of a wildfire the highway would be kept open as long as possible, and through its review a wildfire from the west would still allow an evacuation route to the north. The greater danger is coming from Rocky Mountain National Park, which is on the other side of town from the highway.

“The highway coming out of Grand Lake for a wildfire should always be open,” Curran said. There are things you can’t plan for, but we’re going to adapt and overcome to any and each circumstance.”

Despite the recent highway closure, Scott says he doesn’t have a disaster plan.

“I would simply sit here and wait it out no matter what it was,” Scott said. “That would be far less dangerous — sitting on my porch — than getting into an evacuation, I think.”

As for visitors, the county says it’s their responsibility to stay safe.

“What we encourage people to do is just be really familiar with the area,” Curran said.

Scott says because people know the dangers of the road being closed, everyone is extra cautious and vigilant.

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