In Like a Lion

lake palisade 0319There’s really nothing for it today but yet another post about the weather. It wasn’t the plan, but while having a not-quite-as-rare-as-it-used-to-be lie-in with Marrakesh, I was watching the Denver “news,” which is nothing more than a series of teasers (“Coming up after yet another commercial break”) and Chris Spears bringing us the weather every five minutes.

Chris frankly confessed to the difficulty of a forecast for the weekend, because two major imports are in play: the apparently non-stop moisture from California, where the radar map is nothing but a state-long glob of green, and the cold temperatures dripping down from the Arctic, possibly clear to Texas. So there will be snow, and it will be cold, with lots of both. That was the bulk of his forecast.

And here in the Palisades subdivision of Gunnison, it is all going to land on nearly-impassible heaps of slush, leaving your correspondent — well, let’s go with aggravated for the moment.

Two winters ago this happened a lot. It snowed, and then got very warm and rained and made a soupy mess we in Gunnison don’t usually deal with in January. Then it got cold and snowed more, and by the time everything was done, the city had spent quite a pretty penny on overtime and equipment for snow removal.

The public works director retired, not because of that, I doubt, but he’d put in his years and was ready to call it a day. So we hired a new public works director, a man named David Gardner. I believe he arrived here from Kansas, and his wife is native to a region far south enough that she implemented a Mardi Gras parade here last year. (It was a much larger and better parade than I expected.)

The first thing the city tasked Mr. Gardner with was developing a snowplowing plan. Of course, it was summer and he was new to Gunnison when he drew this up, although presumably he used the input of his staff, several members of which are lifelong Gunnison residents who have spent their entire careers working for public works.

Then we got winter, except we didn’t. It was an extremely dry season that caused Blue Mesa Reservoir to drop to levels unseen since probably the reservoir was first filled. (I am surrounded by several weeks worth of Gunnison Country Times as I type this, but do you think I can find the actual figures on snowfall and plowing? No, I cannot.) So Mr. Gardner’s plow plan went untested in its first year.

This year, however, we are definitely putting it to the test. And as a resident of the Palisades, I am underwhelmed, although I believe a recent article in the newspaper had the city congratulating itself on the success of it all.

I get it: the city prioritizes school and emergency routes, and then “collector” streets, not odd warrens of residential streets that lead nowhere. But what I think is missing from the city’s plan — I ought to provide my citizen input — is any notion of density.

Density was clearly not a concept for early denizens of Gunnison, with stately and not-so-stately houses four to a block on either side of a street, lined with visionary cottonwoods that 30 years ago were tall and majestic and now are all reaching the end of their life expectancy, with no crop following along to replace them. But in today’s realm, which seems more developer-driven than city vision, the object is to sell as many lots as possible, and so houses in the new Van Tuyl Village are good for people who want to borrow a cup of sugar from their neighbors: they just reach out their window.

On our 1960s-dense block of Irwin Street, which seems to be about the same length as any other city block, there are 10 houses on our side of the street and nine on the other (due to the curve). So that’s 19 households — and it seems to be a requirement on Irwin that you have more cars than drivers per house — versus the eight households per block on “collector” streets.

I don’t mind that we’re not top priority on the plow plan, but I think it would behoove the city to factor that in when it gets to the “warming” portion of snow removal. Maybe at that point it ought to be time to work from the outside in, because by now our streets are packed with inches (the other day I estimated three, but it seems like we’re at six or better) of snow that got packed down rather than plowed.

So when you have two days of 40-degree weather to herald the incoming month of March, you get slush so thick and heavy that Lynn has to put her Jeep in four-wheel drive just to get home. I walked in from Carol’s garage last night, and for the first three blocks, which were completely dry, I wondered why I was clunking along in my Muckboots. Before I even made it to Lake Palisade, which stretches for a full block along Palisade Avenue, it was clear I had made the right choice in footwear.

Now, if we were going to continue with a string of 40-degree days, this wouldn’t be a huge issue. One should never underestimate the power of the sun here in Gunnison. But. We are supposed to be getting “1-3 feet” of snow by Monday, according to Chris Spears, and the highs of the weekend are probably happening right now.

(To my relatives in Denver, especially the one who has scoffed at Gunnison temps all winter: I’ll bet you are colder this weekend than we are.)

So, if one were to be planning out the weekend, and how most efficiently to remove snow, it would seem to this disgruntled layperson that a good use of a plow yesterday would have been to come through the Palisades and Van Tuyl Village to clean up this slush mass before it hardens  in a series of wrinkles and ruts and becomes the base layer for “1-3 feet” of new snow. (My Wunderground forecast, which called for it to snow all day, predicted “1-3 inches” today, but snow every day through next Saturday.)

With 40 percent of city council living in the Palisades (including the mayor, who resides in the TL Livermore Childhood Homestead on Tincup Drive), you would think someone ought to be able to make a clear case for at least some tweaks in the plow plan. It may be time for more than just the weather to roar.

Above: Lake Palisade, from the shallow end. It stretches all the way back to the next cross street. Below: An intrepid photojournalist, even one in slippers, would have braved the skiff of ice on the driveway for a closer, in-depth look at the Giant Slush Mass inundating Irwin Street. This is what you get instead.

irwin 0319


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