East Snowmass Creek bridge remains out in 2016
A sorely missed trail connection in Snowmass Village will not be reconstructed this year due to resource limitations in the White River National Forest.
The bridge over East Snowmass Creek, which connected the village’s Ditch Trail to the East Snowmass Trail on Forest Service land, fell in the fall of 2014, forcing rangers to dismantle and remove it. While the trail can still be accessed from a parking area further down Divide Road, avid hikers in Snowmass Village are missing a connection that allowed them to go right from their backyard into the backcountry.
“It just changes the nature of the experience,” said Jeff Tippett of the Snowmass Village Trails Committee. “It was so convenient for people in Snowmass Village to park at the Divide lot, and it’s a level walk (on the Ditch Trail). It’s just a wonderful hike for people in Snowmass Village.”
The trails committee has asked the Town Council as well as potential benefactors in the village to allocate funding toward the bridge’s reconstruction.
“Even though this bridge is outside of the town’s jurisdiction, the town understands that the bridge and trail is valuable enough to the community that we have been attempting to partner with the (Forest Service) to bump this project up on their long list of other priorities in the region,” said Travis Elliott, assistant to the town manager. “That partnership included an offer to pay for the design and engineering costs on the project.”
However, it’s not as simple as writing a check. In addition to the funding constraints, the Forest Service’s staff is spread thin. Particularly in the White River National Forest, increased demand coupled with decreased federal funding and staff downsizing has forced the most visited forest in the nation to cut services, said Scott Fitzwilliams, forest supervisor, to the Summit Daily News last month.
“We were hoping that the offer would speed up the process, but the (Forest Service) has other resource constraints preventing them from tackling this project over the course of the USFS 2016 project cycle,” Elliott said.
And then last year, a White River National Forest bridge engineer visited the site and realized the location of the 20-plus-year-old bridge wouldn’t allow the agency to meet a new standard requiring bridges to be able to withstand hundred-year floods, said Karen Schroyer, Aspen-Sopris District Ranger. A new bridge will have to be installed in a different location, and while Schroyer says it won’t significantly change hikers’ experience, it will be distinct enough from the old location to require a National Environmental Policy Act review.
And that costs more money.
“I’m sure that we could get this bridge built without a dollar out of the Forest Service’s pocket,” said Tippett, who helped coordinate the building of the bridge using funds from the Snowmass Resort Association in the early 1990s. “But they have a process.
“I understand it. But I don’t have to like it.”
Other bridge projects are taking priority in the White River National Forest this year, including one on the Scenic Loop at Maroon Lake and another connecting a campground at Reudi Reservoir to the marina. Forest Service projects have to be prioritized according to what does “the greatest good for the greatest number of people for the greatest period of time,” Schroyer said.
The bridge is important enough to people in Snowmass Village that Tippett gets stopped once or twice a week at the post office by people asking about it.
“Hiking is a huge activity in the village, both for tourists and for locals,” he said.
As the Forest Service continues to ponder how to deal with the impacts of high volume at Conundrum Hot Springs and Maroon Lake, the East Snowmass Trail could be a good alternative, Tippett suggested. The trail goes to Willow Lake, but from there hikers can go on to Maroon Lake and access the whole of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
“Here’s a place that’s so under-utilized, and they can’t figure out a way to get a bridge built and move people over there,” he said.
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