Forest Service finds the funds to complete Maroon Bells project | AspenTimes.com

Forest Service finds the funds to complete Maroon Bells project

The U.S. Forest Service has secured the money it needs to complete a compromise at the Maroon Bells.

The Forest Service bowed to public pressure last fall and agreed to scrap plans to build a 5,000-square-foot visitor center. Instead the federal agency will construct a 300-square-foot covered bus shelter and a “visitor contact shelter” of about 500 square feet.

The agency also negotiated a settlement with a citizens group called Free the Bells that called for it to make alterations to a 2,600-square-foot bathroom that hundreds of people complained looked like a structure from the Flintstones cartoon.

The Forest Service received its budget just two weeks ago, although its fiscal year started in October. The Aspen Ranger District learned that the funds were appropriated by Congress to complete the Maroon Bells job, according to Aspen District Ranger Jim Upchurch.

He didn’t disclose the budgeted amount because he said that could interfere with the bidding process. The job will be placed out for bid this summer. The plan is to start construction in August.

“We hope to get as much done this year as possible,” he said.

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The new facilities will be located north of the bathroom that generated howls of protest from the public when it was constructed 18 months ago. Hundreds of Aspen-area residents and visitors demanded that the facility be torn down.

Upchurch said last fall that he couldn’t justify destroying a structure built with funds from American taxpayers. He agreed that changes were necessary. Upchurch inherited the bathroom bunker building from the previous district ranger, Rob Iwamoto.

The Forest Service will decrease the height and shrink the scale of the bathroom by removing boulders and tons of dirt from the top. The concrete facade will be reduced to lower the building’s profile. More vegetation will be planted on the top of the earth-roof structure.

The road in front of the bathroom will be pulled back from the bathroom by about 100 feet and planted with trees and grasses. The rear of the building will also be screened.