By Alan Gionet

WINTER PARK, Colo. (CBS4) – Snow started moving into Grand County Tuesday with a problem ahead. There aren’t enough people to clear it.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is short 200 drivers across the state. It works on the state highways in the county, but the county’s Road and Bridge Department is also short of people. There are 12 jobs open on a team that’s usually about 46 total.

With 780 miles of county roads to plow, the superintendent of the county’s Road and Bridge Department says they’re trying to figure out how to do the shifts. More hours are likely, but it depends on the winter ahead.

(credit: CBS)

“Our plan really for the winter is really to focus on our roads and then we’ll work into our secondary and subdivisions,” said Chris Baer. The problem like CDOT’s is a lack of people in the mountains who want the jobs. “The housing market and really the general cost of living you know is tough to meet those needs.”

Government isn’t alone in its hiring difficulties.

“It’s something that this valley hasn’t had to deal with in the past and now it’s hit us head on,” said Brian Cerkvenik, owner of Home James Transportation.

He has put a banner on the front of their offices in Fraser with multiple offers. He’s increased wages, offered bonuses, is willing to help with locating affordable housing and even subsidizing it if people are willing to move to the area. No one has applied.

Many left when jobs dried up last year during the early part of the pandemic.

“I think a lot of people left that maybe would have stayed through the summer found another job if their job was seasonal and then stuck around for another winter, but I think all of those people left and they’re not coming back.”

Young people who used to come to the mountain town to try out the idea of making a living to supplement their outdoor recreation aren’t doing it nearly as much.

“Pre-COVID absolutely, but it’s really just decimated the young people population up here.”

Part of the difficulty in finding housing has been caused by the pandemic. More people are able to work from home and have moved to the mountains to do so. Another issue is the rising number of homes and condos in short term rental.

“I understand if you can make $1,500 in a weekend doing a short term rental and use your place for three weekends out of the month versus letting someone stay long term and charging them $1,500 bucks a month, it doesn’t make financial sense,” said Cerkvenik.

(credit: CBS)

The community is tossing around the idea of limits on short term rentals, so there are more units available for seasonal or long-term rental.

Grand County has another reality that’s been a bigger hit on the Road and Bridge Department, partly because it also serves the northern area of the county beyond Winter Park and Fraser.

“Everyone knows Grand County went from a huge East Troublesome Fire last year,” said Baer. “That didn’t help the housing resources so that’s probably the biggest contributing factor.”

There were about 500 homes lost.

The complicated mix of causes also leads to a complicated mix of solutions. Creating housing is an answer, but not a quick one.

“It’s not a quick fix,” said Cerkvenik. “If we buy land and we build apartment buildings or condos or something that’s couple years away.”

Winter Park Mayor Nick Kutrumbos said there are discussions going on about how to show the need at the state and federal level. Ironically, the more the average median income of the residents who are there rises, the less need that shows up when communities attempt to qualify for housing assistance. The community is now trying to supplement in small ways, worker housing.

The season is now here and the applications are not coming in.

“Right now I think the plan is to go one day at a time,” said Baer.

Alan Gionet