Budget cuts force Forest Service to reassess | AspenTimes.com

Budget cuts force Forest Service to reassess

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

A dwindling budget may soon force the U.S. Forest Service to limit maintenance on some campgrounds, day-use areas and trailheads in the White River National Forest and possibly close others, a Forest Service official said Friday.

“Most of our staff across the forest don’t feel good about that,” said Mike Kenealy, the forest’s recreational and special-uses coordinator. “It’s never a fun thing to close a campground.”

Kenealy is in the process of recreation-site analysis of the hundreds of campgrounds, day-use areas and trailheads in the White River National Forest with an eye toward those that can be operated and maintained for at least the next five years and possibly the next decade or two, he said.

“The result may be that some sites will close,” Kenealy said. “But I don’t believe any will close this summer.”

The analysis will likely be available for the public in late spring or early summer, and no decisions have been made yet, he said.

The White River National Forest’s budget has dropped from $30.39 million in 2009 to $18.4 million last year. That has caused consternation among some elected officials, though it also has led to creative partnerships among local governments, nonprofits and the Forest Service.

Hawk Greenway, a member of the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board and a candidate for the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners, blasted the federal government and unnamed Colorado politicians early last week for gutting the forest’s budget over the last few years.

“These numbers don’t make any sense,” Greenway said, calling the budget problems “unconscionable.” “(The White River National Forest) should have a $50 million budget.”

The comments, however, were made in the context of a larger discussion about how Pitkin County can legally help pay to manage Forest Service lands.

Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards also has, in recent months, mentioned during commissioner meetings her concern about sites that might be closed by the Forest Service.

Kenealy said he doesn’t think any trailheads in the forest will be closed in upcoming years, though the Forest Service may not replace trailhead signs when they wear out and may curb maintenance on some trails.

Campgrounds in the Roaring Fork Valley are probably safe from closure, he said, because they have been successfully operated by a concessionaire for years. The exception is Portal Campground near Grizzly Reservoir, which is maintained by the Twin Lakes Reservoir Co. through an informal agreement, Kenealy said. Without that agreement, the Forest Service likely would have to close it, he said.

Campgrounds outside the valley with low occupancy rates and crumbling infrastructure like toilets, however, may not survive, Kenealy said.

“It may be time to close a campground rather than spend $30,000 (on new toilets),” he said.

Day-use areas such as Dinkle Lake Picnic Area, located just north of Mount Sopris, also might not make the cut, Kenealy said. That site, which used to be a campground years ago, is heavily vandalized every year, and the Forest Service likely can’t afford to keep maintaining it, he said.

“The toilets get shot up every year,” Kenealy said.

The White River National Forest is the most visited national forest in the country, with more than 13 million annual visits, he said.