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Campgrounds get new management

Jeremy Heiman

When the campgrounds in the White River National Forest open for the summer, they will be under new management.

Thousand Trails Management Services, Inc., with regional headquarters in Boulder, was awarded a permit to manage the forest’s campgrounds and day-use areas. Thousand Trails was selected from among five applicants by a U.S. Forest Service evaluation panel.

“The public shouldn’t really see many changes from what was going on last year,” said Mike Kenealy, recreation technician for the Forest Service’s Sopris Ranger District.

Under new federal legislation, Thousand Trails has a five-year permit with an opportunity to renew for an additional five years if the Forest Service is satisfied with the company’s service.

In the Aspen area, the company will replace the Rocky Mountain Recreation Company, the firm that had managed campgrounds in the forest’s Aspen, Sopris, Blanco and Rifle ranger districts for the past five years. RMRC was one of the unsuccessful applicants for the new permit.

Thousand Trails’ new permit includes six of the seven ranger districts in the White River National Forest. The Eagle Ranger District will operate its own campgrounds and recreation areas.

Forest Service officials elected to exclude a few areas from the permit. The Grottoes, a day-use area formerly managed by RMRC, will be under Forest Service management, as will dispersed camping areas at Diemer Lake and Sellar Lake in the Fryingpan Valley.

“We felt we really didn’t want to charge a fee at some of those places,” Kenealy said.

Deputy Forest Supervisor Steve Sherwood said the evaluation panel was pleased with Thousand Trails’ proposal to provide extra campground hosts and a separate maintenance staff.

“Their staffing was the best of them all,” he said.

Sherwood said Thousand Trails also had the most favorable proposal for returning fees to the Forest Service and displayed the greatest financial strength. Thousand Trails’ parent company owns campgrounds across the southern states, and Thousand Trails manages numerous public recreation areas in the Pacific Northwest. The company manages public sites in Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Nevada and Colorado. It is also bidding on permits in additional states.

Don Guisinger, operations and training manager for the company, said he doesn’t anticipate any unusual challenges in managing campgrounds in the White River National Forest. With 63 campgrounds in the forest, the sheer number might present some difficulty, he said. But Thousand Trails has the permit for the entire Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon, with a comparable number of sites.

Bear problems such as those experienced at campgrounds in the Roaring Fork Valley last year are nothing new to Thousand Trails, Guisinger said. The company put in bear-proof dumpsters in campgrounds in the Boulder Ranger District in the Arapahoe-Roosevelt National Forest, where bears have been persistent for several years.

“The bears got awfully mad at us the first year and just tore up the dumpsters,” Guisinger said. “But they left them alone after that.”

Guisinger, who said he started in the campground business as a volunteer host, said Thousand Trails believes in putting money back into campgrounds. He said the company will be concentrating on providing good service for the customers.

“It’s important for us to get off on the right foot this year,” he said.

Sherwood said he recognizes that there will always be complaints from campground users about one thing or another. But he said Thousand Trails has promised to deal with complaints in a professional manner.

“What we have is a commitment that when we do have problems, they’ll get on ’em,” he said.


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