Of all the people gathering on Highway 9 between Silverthorne and Kremmling to celebrate the ribbon cutting of the state’s first-ever wildlife overpass, Mike Ritschard understands the dangers of that highway more than most.

“We have a tremendous history on this road,” Ritschard said.

30 years ago, his parents died on Highway 9 trying to avoid wildlife. There are more than 60 accidents involving wildlife and vehicles on that road each year.

Until now.

New safety improvements like wider shoulders, less slope, deer guards, a wildlife fence and animal overpasses have dropped that number as much as 90 percent.

The eight-foot tall fencing stretches for 20 miles and funnels wildlife onto the overpasses. Michelle Cowardin with Colorado Parks and Wildlife says the overpass is well out of the way for drivers.

“Crossing structures allow animals to move back and forth during their daily and seasonal movement patters and to keep them off the highway,” Cowardin said.

The first phase of the safety improvements have been finished. The second phase will be done by November.

In all, the project costs about 50 million dollars. It was started by a public grassroots movement that helped raise millions of dollars to help.

One ranch owner donated more than $800,000 to the project. It’s work that Ritschard hopes will help keep families a lot safer down the road,

“This is a very heartfelt project,” Ritschard said.