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Forest Service to look to locals for forest guidance

Jeremy Heiman

Local U.S. Forest Service officials hope to assemble a citizen group to help them with management of National Forest lands.

The Sopris and Aspen Ranger districts will hold an organizational meeting Thursday to start forming the group. The citizen group would oversee retail sales of maps and books at a proposed Highlands Village Visitor Center, organize volunteers for a variety of projects and raise funds for such projects as the restoration of the Grottos trail.

Such groups already assist federal agencies with the operation of National Forests and National Parks in other areas. The group would become a nonprofit corporation, guided by a board of directors.

“A nonprofit corporation has the flexibility to do things a government agency can’t do,” said Aspen District Ranger Jim Upchurch. Agencies such as the Forest Service are not permitted by law to conduct retail sales or to raise funds.

In recent years, sales of interpretive materials such as maps and books have been sold in the Aspen Ranger District under an agreement with the Rocky Mountain Nature Association, based in Estes Park. That organization was formed primarily to serve visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park, Upchurch said.

The White River National Forest, with its ever-increasing visitor numbers, needs its own local support organization, he said. Retail sales would take place at the ranger district offices in Carbondale and Aspen, as well as the Highlands Village center, Upchurch said.

Another function of the group will be fund-raising for projects such as trail improvements, watershed restoration and wildlife habitat improvement.

“I can’t go out to the community and say I need $10,000 for this trail at the Grottos,” Upchurch said. But a nonprofit support group can raise money for the Grottos or for other projects, such as wetland restoration at Warren Lakes.

The citizen group would also round up the volunteers needed to help with a restoration project or to monitor a site, he said.

Upchurch said the organization would have a volunteer board of directors which would make decisions, and an executive director. The executive director’s job might eventually be a paid position.

The group, Upchurch said, will eventually suggest to the Forest Service what new projects need to be done. “We don’t want to spell out everything,” he said.

With the heaviest tourism and recreational use, the Aspen and Sopris Ranger districts are the first of the seven districts in the White River National Forest to attempt to develop a community support organization.

“We’re trying to develop a model in the Roaring Fork Valley that could be followed in the rest of the White River National Forest,” Upchurch said.

He added that he hopes the rank-and-file volunteer membership might number as many as 300 to 500 people.

The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, the Aspen Wilderness Workshop and Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers have helped the Forest Service with projects in the past, Upchurch said.

“Now we’re going to try to open it up to the public and see if we can get it going,” Upchurch said.

The organizational meeting will start at 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15, at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies headquarters, 100 Puppy Smith St., Aspen.


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