DENVER – A popular Colorado trail where a rock slide killed five members of the same family will remain closed at least until spring, the U.S. Forest Service said Wednesday, and one local official believes the closure should be permanent.
Forest Service experts will have to inspect the site to see if it is feasible and safe to rebuild the trail after it was buried by boulders on Monday, said John Peterson, deputy supervisor for the San Isabel National Forest, which manages the trail. That inspection won’t happen until after the coming winter, he said.
Chaffee County Undersheriff John Spezze said the trail should be closed permanently, calling it a “public safety hazard.” Spezze said geologists from Climax Molybdenum, a Colorado mining operation, went to the site and thought it was too dangerous to reopen.
A spokesman for Climax Molybdenum’s parent company, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., said the geologists would not be made available for interviews.
What triggered the slide is still under investigation.
Life-threatening rock slides are rare and difficult for hikers to prepare for and protect against, Peterson said.
“It’s such an extreme event, and it’s so uncommon, I don’t know what you do,” he said.
Peterson said the Forest Service will consult with the sheriff’s office and area residents before deciding whether to reopen the trail.
The slide killed a couple from the nearby town of Buena Vista, one of their daughters and two of their nephews from Missouri. Another daughter survived with a broken leg after her father shielded her.
The sheriff’s department identified the dead as Dwayne Johnson, 46, Dawna Johnson, 45, and their 18-year-old daughter, Kiowa-Rain Johnson.
The other victims were identified as Baigen (BAY’-zhun) Walker, 10, and Paris Walkup, 22, both of Birch Tree, Mo. They were nephews of Dwayne and Dawna Johnson.
Gracie Johnson, 13, told rescuers her father jumped on top of her when boulders began to crash down around them. Rescuers said Dwayne Johnson probably saved his daughter’s life.
Gracie was being treated at The Children’s Hospital in suburban Denver. The hospital said the girl and her family were grateful for the public’s concern but had no other comment. The hospital said it could not release any information about her condition.
A memorial service for the Johnsons was set for Saturday in Buena Vista. Separate services were being organized for the nephews in Missouri.
The short, scenic trail to Agnes Vaille Falls is a local favourite.
Associated Press writers P. Solomon Banda and Colleen Slevin contributed to this report. Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP