Beetles hit Summit camping industry
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY – Along with chomping their way through countless acres of lodgepole forests, hungry pine beetles are also taking a big bite out of the local camping scene.
The summer-long closure of Heaton Bay and Peak One campgrounds has cost the concessionaire that operates local sites in a big way, said Bessie Lamoreaux, one of the area managers for Thousand Trails, the private company that operates several local national forest campgrounds.
The campgrounds have been closed due to tree removal projects and because of the potential danger posed by dead trees. Heaton Bay was to have been reopened by the Fourth of July, but the work didn’t progress as hoped.
Lamoreaux said Heaton Bay won’t open this summer. The campground usually closes for the season in mid-October.
“It would be really hard for us to find somebody to manage it at this point,” she said.
“We turned people away all summer,” Lamoreaux said. “We haven’t taken a detailed look at the numbers yet. I’m almost afraid to. But if you can imagine being without almost 300 campsites all summer, at $15 to $16 per night … it’s a significant impact.”
Some campers were able to find room elsewhere in the county. Lamoreaux said the Blue River campground, north of Silverthorne, reported a 95 percent occupancy rate all summer long. In previous years, that campground was only about half-full during the middle of the week.
Other local camping spots, like Pine Cove and Lowry, were “overwhelmed” this summer, she added.
The closures of Summit County’s most popular camping areas also boosted use at national forest campgrounds around Green Mountain Reservoir, said Ken Waugh, recreation staff officer for the Dillon Ranger District.
Waugh also said that most people who couldn’t find spots at Heaton Bay and Peak One were able to camp somewhere else.
“It didn’t seem there was a huge outcry. People didn’t have to go home,” Waugh said.
Both Waugh and Lamoreaux said they were disappointed with the tree removal work at Heaton Bay. Waugh said the contractor faced some equipment challenges. The work at Peak One is slated to begin as soon as the snow melts, which coincides with the normal opening time for that campground.
“I hope they don’t drag their feet at Peak One like they did at Heaton Bay,” Lamoreaux said.
Waugh said the work at the two sites essentially involves cutting all lodgepoles more than seven inches in diameter, dead or alive.
Some of the areas will be clearcut, although there is some aspen growth, and regeneration of young lodgepoles in parts of the campgrounds, Waugh said.
“It looks like a battlefield down there; it’s real said,” Lamoreaux said of Heaton Bay.
In addition to the campground work, loggers are removing beetle-killed trees and othe hazardous fuels from a 400-foot strip on 88 acres behind the County Commons, with similar projects under way near the high school and subdivisions in that area.
Last week, the Forest Service started looking at bids submitted for beetle-related logging on an additional 1,360 acres of Red Zone lands near other residential neighborhoods, including Wildernest, Mesa Cortina, Ruby Ranch, Three Peaks, Eagles Nest and Maryland Creek Ranch.
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