Much-maligned toilets get make over | AspenTimes.com

Much-maligned toilets get make over

The U.S. Forest believes it has created a kinder, gentler restroom at Maroon Lake. Critics of the original design agree.

A contractor for the Forest Service is scheduled to finish alterations of the much-maligned, 2,600-square-foot toilet building by Oct. 15.

The company shaved off some of the structure’s fake rock facade; pulled a bus lane further from the building to allow construction of a berm; and removed rock from the roof so vegetation could take hold easier.

Finishing touches are scheduled to be made in the next couple of weeks with the planting of 75 aspen trees, numerous bushes and hundreds of pounds of grass and wildflower seeds.

An informal citizens’ group called Free the Bells credited the Forest Service for “making progress.”

“I think they got the message that this shouldn’t be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator,” said Free the Bells member Howie Mallory.

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Critics contended that the design of the uber-toilet and surrounding compound was flawed because it dumped bus riders off in a sea of asphalt right in front of the imposing structure, obstructing their view of the magnificent Maroon Bells. Mallory said it was originally designed to accommodate a high-heeled woman from Miami rather than someone who appreciates nature.

About 80 people submitted written comments in August 2001 when the Forest Service debated alterations. Nearly all of them criticized the toilet’s look. It has most often been described as something Fred and Wilma Flintstone would call home.

Former Aspen District Ranger Jim Upchurch decided he couldn’t order the structure destroyed, as some critics demanded, but he agreed that alterations were necessary. He inherited the freshly completed building when he took the job in Aspen.

Critics also convinced the Forest Service to drop plans to build a 4,500-square-foot interpretative center and bus shelter next door to the toilet.

Instead, finishing touches are being added to a 500-square-foot interpretative center built into the hillside and a humble bus shelter also carved into the earth.

The two new structures along with modifications to the toilet site will cost slightly less than $1 million.

The project manager for the Forest Service agreed with Free the Bells that the reworked project is better. The new design for the toilet building “softens” what was previously a “harsh” appearance, said Chris Sporl from the Forest Service’s regional office for Design and Interpretation.

“The revised design takes the emphasis off the bathrooms and puts it on the Bells,” Sporl said.

Free the Bells and the Forest Service were concerned with the old building’s appearance as people looked toward the Maroon Bells, as well as looking downvalley toward the building from Maroon Lake. The previous design made the building stick out. The doorways in the cement rock gave it the appearance of a cave.

To soften that look, general contractor W.R. Henderson Construction Inc. of Rexburg, Idaho, removed what’s been called a ship’s prow from the primary face of the toilet building on the east. About 18 to 24 inches of the facade were removed from the west face to make it less visible from the lake, said Jim Stark, assistant Aspen district ranger.

Rock was removed from the earthen roof so that vegetation could grow. The clumps of 75 aspen trees will be added on the sides and in front of the building to blend in with the aspen groves naturally growing on either side.

Substantial changes were made to the front of the building. The bus lane was pulled back 100 feet from the structure. The terraced berm hits a height of 10 feet and is 80 feet long. It has lots of angular boulders sprinkled in to mimic the surrounding natural landscape.

It’s not the typical Roaring Fork Valley berm, which is usually a pile of dirt with a few trees stuck on top.

Only a few trees and bushes have been added around the toilet so far. The landscaping contractor, G.H. Daniels and Associates Inc., of Gypsum, is letting aspen trees turn their leaves before uprooting and transplanting them.

Sporl said the area around the structures will look better over the next three years as the vegetation matures.

Mallory said Free the Bells is “basically satisfied” with the results. The toilet building used to be a rubble heap, he said.

“It’s not an in-your-face structure now,” Mallory said.

However, the group’s members were disappointed that more of the hated fake rock facade wasn’t removed.

“The Forest Service, as much as they could, responded and listened to us as best they could,” Mallory said.

The facilities will be ready when the Maroon Lake facilities open for the season next spring.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]

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