Feds: 5 options for Maroon Lake facility
The U.S. Forest Service is reconsidering whether a proposed visitors’ center at Maroon Lake should be built as proposed, scaled back or abandoned altogether.
A special team of Forest Service personnel has come up with five alternatives the agency will review to decide the project’s fate, according to Aspen District Ranger Jim Upchurch.
“I think we can come up with an alternative that makes most people happy,” he said.
That will be no small task. The proposed visitors’ center – the last component of a $6 million redevelopment plan started in 1995 – has come under scrutiny both within the Forest Service and among locals this summer.
Critics contend the visitors’ center adds too much mass and density for such a beautiful area. They claim it degrades the views and will just invite an even greater degree of industrial tourism.
Supporters claim the facilities are needed to deal with the crowds already flocking to the popular Maroon Bells base. They say an interpretative center is needed for environmental education.
Upchurch and White River National Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle will settle the project’s fate later this fall. According to Upchurch, the five alternatives being studied are:
1. Build the structure as it is proposed. That would add an underground structure of about 4,500 square feet that provides space for a shelter, interpretative displays, information for visitors and a sales area. The entrance to the building would be a 90-foot facade covered with fake rocks.
2. Scale down the structure. The underground building would be about a quarter of the size of the current proposal. It would provide space for an employee work space, a public counter and a small interpretative display. A larger interpretative center and sales area would be provided at Highlands Village at the base of the Aspen Highlands ski area.
3. Split facilities at the Maroon Lake site. The visitors’ center would be scaled down to one-quarter of the size currently proposed and used as a small interpretative area. A shelter and additional bathrooms would be added in the lower parking lot. Some of the buses would be diverted to the lower lot. A larger interpretative and information center would be built at Highlands Village.
4. The visitors’ center would be scaled back to just a small shelter. It would include work space for one.
5. Do nothing.
Doing nothing isn’t a realistic option, said Upchurch. His office determined it needs facilities that will provide visitors to Maroon Lake with a place to go in case of storms or rain. They also determined they need some space for interpretative displays to educate people about wilderness in general and the popular Maroons Bells area in particular.
Upchurch said the district needs space for retail sales of items like maps and “interpretative items” that help recover the costs of construction.
Two environmental considerations must also weigh into the decision, said Upchurch. Whatever facilities are added must protect the scenic views of the Maroon Lake area. In addition, facilities must assist the Forest Service in its goal of getting more people to use mass transit to the area. Currently 80 percent of visitors arrive in private vehicles and only 20 percent use buses, he said.
The Forest Service team will review the five alternatives based on the Aspen Ranger District’s criteria. The team will release a final report that includes a recommendation in about three weeks.
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