Forest Service ponders how to meet-and-greet |

Forest Service ponders how to meet-and-greet

Scott CondonAspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS The U.S. Forest Service will close the visitors’ center in its Glenwood Springs office this year, but officials insist that is part of a plan to actually enhance contact with the public.The visitors’ center in the White River National Forest supervisor’s office on Grand Avenue could close as soon as May, according to agency spokeswoman Sally Spaulding. The space will be converted to administrative offices.Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson said the change is in line with her philosophy to reach out to the public more effectively and “not wait for people to walk in through the front door.””I question how well we serve the public now,” she said.The supervisor’s office was never really intended to be a visitors’ center, she noted. The office is closed on weekends and nights – times when visitors’ demands for information are highest.The district ranger offices located in Aspen, Carbondale, Rifle, Meeker, Eagle and Dillon are better suited to handle visitors, according to Gustafson.But, tourists pulling off of Interstate 70 into Glenwood probably don’t know the difference between an administrative building or a district ranger office. They just want help finding information about the forest and recreational opportunities.Gustafson acknowledged that point and said she is seeking alternatives to continue providing information in Glenwood. Maps and free information about trails might be better provided at stores and other locations. Spaulding said the agency is exploring placing a season information specialist at the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association’s high-traffic office.Gustafson said the Forest Service’s visitors’ center won’t close in May if an alternative hasn’t been found. “It’s not like we would ever just close the door,” she said.The agency isn’t considering closing any other visitors’ centers. The Sopris office in Carbondale could evolve into a primary contact point because it is centrally located in the Roaring Fork Valley, Gustafson said, and the Forest Service will “always have a presence in Aspen.”The agency’s two-year policy has been to close the visitors’ center in Aspen during the winter and re-open it in May. Forest Service officials decided the limited number of visits during the winter didn’t warrant keeping the office staffed. Instead, the agency sent rangers onto the ski slopes where contact with the public was more frequent.The agency also has a visitors’ center at the Maroon Bells when hordes visit during the summer months.Gustafson said those are examples of getting rangers out to meet the public.While the Forest Service will maintain a presence in Aspen, the main visitors’ center might not remain at the current office, Gustafson said. The site is difficult to reach for vehicles approaching from the west and attempting a left turn in the S-curves.At some point the Forest Service might need to relocate its visitors’ center to a centrally-located spot that it possibly shares with partners, Gustafson said. However, there are no plans to sell the existing site, she stressed.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is