Fate of some Aspen-area forest campgrounds up in the air
The Pitkin County commissioners want the U.S. Forest Service to pursue public-private partnerships to keep recreation facilities open in the Aspen area rather than close some of the more financially draining sites.
The White River National Forest is undertaking an analysis of its recreation sites and later this year will unveil a proposal on what facilities must be scaled back or even closed. The exercise is necessary because the forest’s budget has decreased 45 percent since 2008, according to agency officials.
The forest must “get realistic about what we can afford to keep open and what we can maintain,” Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer told the commissioners.
It will be difficult for the agency to devote funds to sites that require significant capital improvements to continue operating, she said. Sites in Pitkin County that will receive a careful look are Avalanche Campground in the Crystal River Valley, Elk Wallow Campground in the Upper Fryingpan Valley and Dinkle Lake day use area, Schroyer said.
She stressed that the Forest Service will look at every alternative and isn’t automatically assuming sites will be closed. However, there is a lot of deferred maintenance to facilities. The recreation site analysis is ranking all the facilities on the forest so that priorities for funding can be set.
For example, Elk Wallow Campground is somewhat obscure, small and not heavily used. Justifying the $25,000 to $40,000 expense of providing a new bathroom will be difficult, Schroyer said. The concessionaire operating the campground would never recoup the investment through camp fees, she said.
The answer to the economic pinch isn’t as simple as raising camp fees, she said. Some campgrounds already charge $20 or $25 per site.
Commissioner Patti Clapper said the Forest Service should explore partnerships with other entities to keep campgrounds and other recreational facilities open and properly maintained.
Commissioner Rachel Richards said it would be helpful if the Forest Service study identified capital and operating expense shortfalls for various sites so potential partners can assess how to help. She also urged the agency to study how closing some sites would affect other sites.
Schroyer said the analysis will be unveiled for the public later this year and comments will be sought. “I’m hopeful some other ideas will come up as a result of that public outreach,” she said.
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