Forest Service has its own plan for Marolt open space (wink, wink) | AspenTimes.com

Forest Service has its own plan for Marolt open space (wink, wink)

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Instead of rail and highway lanes across the Marolt open space, how about filling part of it with a large administrative center and a parking garage?

Jim Upchurch, Aspen district ranger for the White River National Forest, admitted to the Pitkin County commissioners Friday that his ideal spot for a new U.S. Forest Service visitor and community center would be at the edge of the Marolt/Thomas open space.

His sketch included a rerouted highway across the property with an underpass designed to serve the new center.

A handful of Aspen officials, including Mayor Helen Klanderud and City Councilman Tom McCabe, were also on hand for what was the first public presentation of the U.S. Forest Service’s plans for the 2.3 million-acre forest.

Upchurch told them that every aspect of the White River’s administrative organization is under review, including the future of the Aspen District Ranger Station on the corner of Seventh and Hallam at the edge of town.

Although nothing is set in stone, sale of some or all of the Seventh and Hallam property is becoming more and more likely, he said. Current plans also call for the Aspen District Ranger office to be merged with Sopris District Ranger office in Carbondale and relocate to a new facility in the midvalley, perhaps at the tree farm in El Jebel.

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Upchurch said the Forest Service has no plans to abandon its presence in Aspen, however. Plans are being drawn up for a visitor information center with a large meeting room for public use. The Forest Service is hoping to hook up with another organization also looking to build a visitor center, possibly even the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

“It will be a visitor center that represents the image of the U.S. Forest Service and is an asset to the community,” Upchurch promised.

He said the location at the Entrance to Aspen was ideal, because it was easy to reach on foot, on a bus or with a car.

“To me it would be best because it’s the best location,” Upchurch said.

It took a few minutes for most of the elected officials to catch on that Upchurch wasn’t married to the idea, or even really serious about it.

“Who have you been talking to?” Klanderud, a longtime opponent of the proposal to reroute Highway 82 across Marolt, asked shortly before she realized he was probably kidding.

After a minute or so, Upchurch admitted the idea was probably “pie in the sky.” He revealed that the potential visitor center locations under serious consideration include the Aspen Highlands base area, the bottom of Buttermilk, on a section of the USFS property at Seventh and Hallam and in downtown Aspen.

He said consideration for a station at Aspen Mass, where Brush Creek Road dead ends at Highway 82, was dropped because it is too far out of town.

Klanderud left the meeting shortly before it ended, which prompted McCabe, a supporter of rerouting the highway.

“It would have been fun to have had a heart rate monitor hooked up to her,” he said with a smile.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]

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