Forest Service reverses campground closure | AspenTimes.com

Forest Service reverses campground closure

The U.S. Forest Service intended to close the Portal Campground at Grizzly Reservoir this summer because it lacked funds, but the public wouldn’t let it.Aspen District Ranger Bill Westbrook said the decision to “decommission” the campground was an example of tough choices the federal agency must make because it doesn’t have enough funds to maintain all its facilities. He said he underestimated the public reaction to the closure.Some people volunteered labor to keep the campground open while others committed funds, Westbrook said. Their help bought time. Westbrook decided to keep Portal open at least through the summer.Nevertheless, the proposed closure is a sign of things to come. The White River National Forest recently completed a Recreational Facilities Master Plan that examines all its assets – like campgrounds, picnic areas, and developed trailheads with toilets – to determine how to manage them in the future.The agency has realized “it can’t be everything to everybody,” said Kristi Ponozzo, information specialist with the White River National Forest. The facilities master plan will come into play during the budget process in the next few years to help determine how and where to allocate funds. Both Westbrook and Ponozzo said some tough decisions need to be made on closures. And some of those decisions are bound to be unpopular with forest users.”We are going to be closing some campgrounds,” Ponozzo said.But it’s not all bad news, stressed Rich Doak, recreational planner for the White River National Forest. The master plan also identifies several sites that the agency feels it should improve.”It’s really about focusing limited resources where they are most effective,” Ponozzo said.In many cases, the master plan simply confirms that the direction the Forest Service was headed with management of specific facilities was the correct decision, according to Doak. For example, Maroon Valley “is an obvious place where we need to focus,” he said.The Forest Service hasn’t released the document to the public yet, so it is unknown what specific campgrounds and facilities were recommended for closure or upgrades. Ponozzo said a public information campaign is planned for later this year.Based on the level of interest over the Portal Campground, the information will be carefully scrutinized. Norman and Louise Barker rallied to keep Portal open this summer. They have lived next to the campground for 17 years as caretakers of Grizzly Reservoir for the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.Louise said Portal has always been popular. “It’s used all the time,” she said.Portal Campground is an unpolished gem, in the eyes of its fans. It provides views of the Elk Mountains, especially the peaks towering over the ghost town of Ruby. It’s about five miles up Lincoln Creek, south of Highway 82, and it is somewhat difficult to get to, which is a big part of its appeal. When Barker and her husband learned the Forest Service planned to close it, they volunteered to clean the toilets, keep them stocked with toilet paper and generally watch over things. The Forest Service supplied the cleaning materials and toilet paper.Barker said she has informed Portal campers of the campground’s precarious administrative spot throughout this summer and urged them write or call the Forest Service to keep it open.She said “it’s not fair” that the Forest Service is closing campgrounds and places that families want to go. It’s also a shame, she said, because of all the pressure for kids to hang out watching television rather than experiencing the great outdoors.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com