Burnt Mountain foes keep pressure on
The Aspen Skiing Co.’s plan to expand its terrain on Burnt Mountain sparked opposition from about 75 wildlife advocates, backcountry skiers, growth foes and people with unknown motives.It also brought a handful of people rallying to the Skico’s defense.The U.S. Forest Service is reviewing the Skico’s application to create three more trails like the existing Long Shot run. The woods east of Long Shot would be thinned to create a “semi-backcountry feel” on about 500 acres, according to the Skico. A catwalk would be expanded to bring skiers and riders back to the Two Creeks section of Snowmass Ski Area and avoid the need for a new chairlift.As part of its review, the Forest Service accepted public comment. The process is intended to raise scientific issues that the federal agency can study. Many of the comments were on a more personal level instead.Don Jewkes, a Snowmass Village resident and business owner, wrote that the greed of developers is ruining the reasons many people moved to the area. He vehemently objected to any further development on Burnt Mountain.”The only benefit I can see is lining the already plush pockets of the Crown family,” he wrote, referring to the Skico’s owners.John Galvin, a backcountry skier from Basalt, expressed a view several letter-writers shared, that developing terrain on Burnt Mountain for ski area customers would ruin a good thing for more adventurous folks. Anyone who has skied Burnt Mountain “knows how hammered it has gotten over the last three years,” Galvin wrote.Jim Stone of Aspen stressed the environmental angle. He wrote that he appreciates the environmental consciousness of the Aspen Skiing Co., Chief Executive Officer Pat O’Donnell and managing partner Jim Crown, but opposes their direction on Burnt Mountain.”I value Burnt Mountain more than I can tell you as a refuge, a piece of pristine solitude, peace and beauty so near,” Stone wrote. “No one I know or talk to is in favor of disturbing this gem of a community asset by putting in ski runs and a return catwalk.”Eleven members of the Zbar family from Jupiter, Fla., wrote a letter stating their objections to expansion on Burnt Mountain. A petition signed by 46 people, most with local addresses, was also turned in.While foes had the numbers, supporters of the Burnt Mountain plan also submitted strongly worded letters to the Forest Service.Ron Ibara of Aspen, who noted that his family has a 100-year history in the valley, criticized opponents of the Burnt Mountain plan.”I’m tired of these freek [sic] pseudo environmentalists opposing everything for every reason,” Ibara wrote. He is “100 percent in favor” of the Skico’s plan.Second-home owner Pete Davis of Snowmass Village and Wrightsville Beach, N.C., said he supported the creation of more trails for people like him who aren’t hard-core backcountry adventurers. He questioned if the proposal would affect wildlife.”As a percentage of acreage in this part of the world, ski runs are probably less than one percent of the total,” Davis wrote. “Public property should be shared and I see no downside to this development.”Todd Shaven of Aspen wrote that the proposal would benefit humans and that the elk could move a few hundred yards away. “They will be just fine,” he wrote.Snowmass Village resident Steve Parmelee wrote that residents have been “waiting for decades” for the kind of project the Skico envisions. He suggested the proposal doesn’t go far enough. Skiing should also be developed on more terrain between Snowmass and Buttermilk, according to Parmelee.Skico officials have noted in the past that they scaled back their plan in ways that will benefit the environment. Their plan for Burnt Mountain was approved in 1994. It’s back for review to see if significant issues have changed in the past 11 years.Since the earlier approval, the Skico has voluntarily withdrawn a plan to run a gondola from the Snowmass primary base to the top of Burnt Mountain. It has also taken one chairlift approved for the east Side of Burnt Mountain off the table.The company maintains its plan to expand use of Burnt Mountain in the winter won’t affect elk because they are on south-facing slopes elsewhere in the area.While emotional appeals dominated the comments, one issue has gotten the Forest Service’s attention.Donald Duerr, the director of a Pinedale, Wyo., environmental group called The Ark Initiative, contends that the Forest Service’s 1994 approval didn’t thoroughly examine the ski area expansion’s effects on the roadless area.Much of Burnt Mountain is roadless and could theoretically be eligible for special designation of wilderness. Duerr said the Skico proposal could affect lands the Forest Service has identified as roadless.In addition, he said the proposal could have a detrimental effect on adjacent roadless lands, which typically are ecologically diverse lands that provide prime wildlife habitat.A Forest Service official has acknowledged the roadless issue will require more study by the agency. The Forest Service must respond to the public comments in the next step of the review.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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