Forest Service considers demolishing Burnt Mountain cabin
The U.S. Forest Service is studying whether to demolish a warming hut that has been used for 30 years by backcountry skiers on Burnt Mountain.
Forest Service workers discovered the hut “a few years ago” in an unused area within the Snowmass Ski Area permit boundary. The agency is now starting the legal process it is obligated to follow to potentially demolish it, according to Aspen Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer.
“The structure had been built without Forest Service authorization on an unpatented mining claim,” Schroyer said in an email after doing research following an inquiry by The Aspen Times. “An unpatented claim is still considered public land versus a patented claim which is considered private property.”
Schroyer, who became the district ranger in January, said she has learned that the White River National Forest spends a significant amount of time dealing with unauthorized structures on public lands. The agency doesn’t have the budget to maintain all of the structures that are documented, so it demolishes them as time and money permit.
The Forest Service will conduct a study under the guidelines of the National Environmental Policy Act before it takes any action on the cabin, Schroyer said in an interview. It’s not anticipated that one of the two most rigorous studies — an environmental-impact statement or an environmental assessment — will be required.
The review will still involve studies by various experts. Inspectors took samples of the building materials Monday to test for asbestos, Schroyer said.
An archaeologist will visit the site to check on historical significance.
“A building has to be 50 years old or older to get historic status,” Schroyer said.
The review process for the proposed demolition will include a 30-day public comment process sometime after the agency’s 2015 fiscal year starts in October. It hasn’t been determined yet when public comment will be collected. The review is expected to continue through this winter and a decision made next summer, Schroyer said.
The review will likely produce an outpouring of support to keep the cabin. While its use was low-key, many skiers and snowboarders learned of it over the years through word-of-mouth. Chances are good that visitors on weekends during ski seasons will find one or more people warming themselves inside or hanging in the sunshine outside, often indulging in their pick-me-up of choice.
The cabin is located between the gladed terrain on Burnt Mountain that Aspen Skiing Co. opened two seasons ago to the east and the Long Shot trail to the west. It isn’t located on terrain Skico uses for its operation. It’s on the Brownsville No. 1 unpatented mining claim, according to the Forest Service.
Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said the company didn’t ask the Forest Service to remove the cabin.
“It has nothing to do with the Aspen Skiing Co.,” he said.
The hut represents a classic case of local character running afoul of regulations. The hut, as it appears today, was built in the fall of 1984, according to sources familiar with the history. Aluminum plates used in The Aspen Times printing process were recycled for roofing material. The plates, which date to September 1984, were used in the original construction, according to a source familiar with the project.
Two men allegedly involved in the construction of the hut declined comment.
Supporters of the cabin are trying to find photos to show the structure was built around the log foundation of a dilapidated cabin. A mine and mine tailings are present on a nearby cliff face, so there’s speculation that the original structure was a miner’s cabin.
Historic status has the potential to play into the decision-making process, Schroyer said. There are other examples in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District where old mining cabins were maintained rather than allowed to rot away. The review of the Burnt Mountain hut might have to determine if the work qualified as new construction or maintenance of an old, allowed structure.
If history isn’t a factor, friends of the hut will have to try to convince the Forest Service to preserve the structure for its character. When asked if public sentiment could influence the decision, Schroyer said, “It’s always considered. Safety is going to be my biggest concern.”
She said the structure has to be evaluated for structural integrity as well as presence of asbestos.
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There is a lot of pent up energy among hikers and bikers to get into the high country, but snow fields, avalanche debris and high stream crossings are presenting challenges later than usual. Forest rangers with the Aspen-Sopris District provide trail condition reports that are updated each week so hikers and backpackers aren’t caught unaware.