Last summer was the opening of Ouray’s Via Ferrata, erected in the Uncompahgre Canyon, where in the winter the world famous Ice Park is situated.

Designed and opened by the Friends of Via Ferrata, a local group of business people and climbers, it was an economic boom in a summer of COVID-19, a summer of seemingly limitless economic booms.

The term “via ferrata” is French and Latin for “iron path,” a climbing route that incorporates steel cables, rungs and ladders of which you attach yourself to with a harness and leashes.

In its initial season, the FOVF expected about 4,000 climbers during the season, but easily doubled that number with the amount of tourists in town and the rave reviews the course received.

People who climbed the course told me it took anywhere from an hour and a half to five hours, depending on crowds and/or skill ability.

According to the park’s website, ourayviaferrata.org, “the route is varied with sections of narrow rock ledge, rungs across blank rock sections, climbing and descending sections and cable traverses – with the entire route protected by continuous safety cable.”

The park features approximately 4,000 linear feet of anchored cable-protected, rung-enhanced trail. There is one 35′ long cable wire bridge across the Uncompahgre Gorge, and a “Sky Bridge” at the North end of the route spanning the gorge for approximately 75 feet at 35 degrees in angle.

And on the heels of the success and thrills of Ouray’s first via ferrata course, here comes Ouray Upstream Via Ferrata 2.0.

Just approved by the Ouray City Council, work will begin constructing a second course. This one will head south in the canyon, and will have “1,500+ linear feet of safety cable, rungs, bridges, ladders, lollipops, platforms, sky ladders, views, challenges and fun,” according to the presentation made to council by FOVF.

Here’s the part that will be sure to thrill: the Helix Ladder (35 feet tall) positioned directly across from the ranger station. This ladder will enable the user to negotiate an overhanging section and gain a higher ledge. The user will begin climbing the ladder facing out and slowly spiral to a facing in position. This ladder may become the most challenging via ferrata structure in the gorge. It will be in full view from the ranger station for ranger observation /assistance, and spectating interest from friends and participants at the start of both upstream and downstream sections.

For all the myriad of talk and ideas on how to make Ouray a better, more diverse destination, nothing has come along in recent years to rival what the Ouray Via Ferrata has done in such short time for this area.

It’s an amazing feature, and the addition of a second course will be an incredible addition.

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A few of the interesting findings in the recent Ouray County Economic Development Plan:

• In July 2020, 95% of all traffic in Ouray County was from outside the county;

• July 2020’s volume of activity by visitors was seven to eight times that of March-April 2020 volume;

• In 2020, there was a 41% increase in traffic on County Road 361 (Camp Bird Road) over 2019 traffic;

• In 2020, there was a 58% increase in traffic on County Road 7 (the road to Blue Lakes Trailhead) over 2019 traffic;

• Between June and September, Camp Bird Road saw 143,000 vehicles pass over it, compared to 103,000 during the same period the prior year;

• In November 2020, the median single-family home price was $599,000, up from the 2015 median price of $319,000;

• From 2010 through 2019, 320 new homes were built in the county,

• The population from 2010 through 2019 has increased by 488; and,

• Including commerce in Ouray, Ridgway and the county, county-wide sales tax was up 29% in 2020 over 2019.

Alan Todd is a 35-year newspaper veteran who lives in Ouray County. He can be reached at alanrosstodd5@yahoo.com.

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