Forest Service office closes until May
The U.S. Forest Service’s Aspen office closed Friday and will not open again until May, the latest example of the agency’s efforts to consolidate its locations here and in Carbondale.The Aspen office is still considered an active ranger station, according to a district press release, despite the nearly four-month reduction in services for locals and tourists.The employee usually devoted to answering questions and providing information to visitors will be assigned other duties, including providing guest services at winter trailheads and the ski areas, said District Ranger Bill Westbrook.Described by The Associated Press as a cash-strapped agency, the Forest Service in recent months has suffered a budget crunch that has forced it to shutter facilities it can no longer afford to maintain. But Westbrook said the local office’s closing has nothing to do with budget cuts.”The reason we’re doing this isn’t for a cost-saving measure. It’s based on priorities, where we can contact the most people at and do the most good,” he said.The issue of closing the Aspen office from now until May came up during prioritization discussions among staff. The talks began in October.Being on the ski mountains and near trails will allow for more contacts with citizens, Westbrook said.”They can meet a couple hundred people in a day,” he said.One or two visitors a day on average visit the office in the months after the holidays.”It’s really slow this time of the year … between now and May,” he said. “I figured instead of having somebody staffed up there, we could put them to work on other aspects.”A variety of free recreational guides, trail conditions, and weather and avalanche reports were posted on the walls near the Aspen office’s front door Sunday. The two reports were dated Friday, and the condition of all 38 trails listed was identical: snow. The trail list was from December.Asked if the avalanche and weather information would be updated daily, Westbrook said he hoped so. He also mentioned the Roaring Fork Avalanche Center’s phone line for reports on slide danger, 920-1664, and its website, http://www.rfavalanche.org.A sign on the front door refers people to the Forest Service office in Carbondale. It encourages visitors to visit that office or call it at 963-2266.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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