Area campgrounds see upgrades, tree cutting | AspenTimes.com

Area campgrounds see upgrades, tree cutting

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Campgrounds around Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley are sporting new toilets, bear boxes and fewer trees this summer.

Crews have removed 228 trees, mostly lodgepole pines, from area campgrounds this season because they were diseased or infested with mountain pine beetles and posed a hazard to campers, according to Karl Oliver, tree safety officer and recreation staffer with the White River National Forest.

The U.S. Forest Service is considering ordering some 300 trees to be planted at the 84-site Chapman Campground in the upper Fryingpan Valley, east of Basalt, in order to diversify the mix of species there and prepare for further losses that are expected as a result of the beetles.

“Hopefully, we’ll be ahead of the game,” Oliver said.

Four campsites near the reservoir at Chapman are closed this season as a result of the tree cutting. The remaining trees are being given a chance to sturdy themselves now that other trees that used to protect them are gone, he explained.

At the 13-site Avalanche Campground in the Crystal River Valley, south of Carbondale, three sites along the river are closed this season and may remain so, Oliver said.

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One mature blue spruce that may be 150 to 200 years old is infested with beetles (another mature spruce fell in the spring) and aging cottonwoods pose a danger from dropping limbs. The Forest Service may establish new campsites rather than cut those trees down, according to Oliver. That move would help protect the riverbank, as well.

“Today, we wouldn’t be able to put a campground in that spot. It’s too much of a riparian habitat,” he said.

The Forest Service is also bracing for beetle kill at Lost Man Campground on Independence Pass, east of Aspen, where more than 40 trees were removed this year.

“I can see trees at Lost Man eventually having to be replaced. That area is being affected by beetles,” Oliver said.

New this year at Avalanche Campground are bear boxes – lockers where campers can secure their food so bears can’t get at it. One box has been installed at each campsite.

The 47-site Difficult Campground at the base of Independence Pass near Aspen already had the boxes – one for every two campsites – but they are not well-used, according to Oliver. Campers don’t seem to like sharing a box, for one thing.

“I think people are very picky about their food resources and I understand that,” he said.

The boxes cost $1,000 apiece though, limiting the agency’s ability to place one at every campsite.

Bear boxes have also been installed on the north side of Chapman. The Redstone and Bogan Flats campgrounds in the Crystal River Valley are under consideration for the them, as well.

“We’re focusing on the campgrounds that have historically had bear trouble,” Oliver said. Bears have not been a problem at any of the developed campgrounds in the area so far this season, he added.

Bear trouble did prompt the Forest Service to shut down the dispersed, undeveloped campsites at the base of Pearl Pass, south of Aspen, earlier this summer.

In the past, bear problems have sometimes forced the Forest Service to close a campground – something the agency would rather not do.

The goal of the bear boxes is to keep food secure and prevent trouble in the first place. Locking up food in a vehicle isn’t always effective, Oliver said.

“Cars are effective if folks put the food in the right place in their car,” he said. “Bears have learned how to open cars up, so it’s not a fool-proof solution.”

Cars with soft tops, soft-sided campers and vehicles that have the windows even slightly open are all susceptible to bear break-ins, he said.

The Forest Service is also contemplating a regulation that would give the agency some teeth to require the securing of food at a campground, Oliver said. Currently, there is no mechanism to cite someone for leaving their cooler of food out and accessible, he said.

On the toilet front, only four old-style vault toilets dating back to the 1960s remain at area campgrounds.

The last of the old toilets at Lost Man Campground were recently replaced. Of the four that remain, one is at the Portal Campground on Independence Pass, one is at Dearhammer Campground in the upper Fryingpan Valley, one is at Black Bess, a day-use area near Dearhammer, and one is at Elk Wallow Campground, also in the Fryingpan Valley.

The Dearhammer and Black Bess toilets are slated for replacement next season, according to Oliver.

The new toilets do a better job of breaking down material, though mountain temperatures don’t provide enough warmth for optimal composting, so the Forest Service still pumps the facilities out, he said.

“For the most part, they smell a lot better,” he said of the new facilities.

janet@aspentimes.com