Forest Service to close visitor center for the winter

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

For the second time in seven years, the U.S. Forest Service has decided to shut its visitors’ center in Aspen for the winter.

The visitors’ center at the Aspen Ranger District on the S-curves will be open only on Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. between Nov. 18 and Dec. 31. Starting Jan. 1, the office won’t be open to the public until May 1.

The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District cannot fully staff the visitor information services programs in both the Aspen and Carbondale offices, the White River National Forest supervisor’s office said in a news release.

“With a significant number of vacancies and reduced budgets, the ability for the District to provide high-quality customer service is becoming increasingly difficult,” said Acting District Ranger David Francomb in a statement. Consolidating visitor information into one office for the winter will improve customer service, he said.

“With a significant number of vacancies and reduced budgets, the ability for the District to provide high-quality customer service is becoming increasingly difficult.”
David Francomb
Acting Aspen-Sopris district ranger

But why is the agency continuing visitors’ information in Carbondale when Aspen is the destination for hundreds of thousands of skiers and other tourists during the winter? Francomb said in an interview that the Carbondale office receives more walk-in visits than Aspen during the winter.

Skiers and other visitors don’t seek information from the Forest Service as much in the winter, he said. Instead they go to the Aspen Skiing Co. or the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s visitors’ center for advice. The busy time for the Forest Service as far as visitor information in Aspen is during summer and fall, when visitors seek information about hiking and bicycling opportunities, he said.

In contrast, the Sopris Ranger District office in Carbondale receives more visits than Aspen in November and December because more people seek Christmas tree cutting permits, Francomb said. In January through April, the Carbondale office remains busier than Aspen with requests for such things as woodcutting permits and snowmobiling opportunities.

Data shows that the Aspen office receives more calls than the Sopris office during winters but those calls will be routed to Carbondale, Francomb said.

The Forest Service closed its Aspen visitors’ information office for the 2006-07 winter in an effort to get rangers out of the office and into the field. The idea with that closure was to get rangers interacting with hunters during the fall and skiers at the ski areas during the winter. The Forest Service gave up the experiment and re-opened the Aspen office for visitor information. It wasn’t clear if the experiment was abandoned after one winter.

This year’s action is strictly related to staffing and budgets. Francomb said there are currently seven vacancies in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. The agency is actively trying to fill four of the positions.

The vacancies and reduced budget isn’t currently affecting any program other than visitor information in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, according to the Forest Service’s statement.