Forest Service won’t sell its entire site in Aspen
Aspen Times Staff Writer
The top U.S. Forest Service official in the region is expected to make a decision this week that will influence how much of a presence the agency will retain in Carbondale and, to a lesser extent, Aspen.
Regional Forester Rick Cables of the Forest Service’s Lakewood office is scheduled to review a preliminary study this week that examines what facilities the agency owns in the upper and middle valley and what consolidation could take place to boost efficiency.
The Forest Service has dropped consideration of selling its entire site along the S-curves on Seventh Street in Aspen, according to Aspen District Ranger Jim Upchurch.
“It’s such a unique site here,” said Upchurch. “If it was sold, we’d never, ever be back in Aspen.”
Earlier in the Forest Service’s internal study of possibilities, a sale of the entire site was contemplated. The city of Aspen looked into buying the site for employee housing, but the plan was opposed by neighbors.
A source familiar with the internal debate said high-ranking Forest Service officials also opposed the idea of selling the Aspen site. The sale was pitched as a way to raise several million dollars to pay for improvements to other facilities throughout the White River National Forest.
Upchurch said the preliminary proposal now only contemplates selling one acre of land at the Aspen site. That acre is currently unused and is covered in weeds, he said.
The preliminary study contemplates more drastic steps for Carbondale and the midvalley. One option would be the sale of the site in Carbondale that has offices, a visitor center and equipment storage at 620 Main St.
If the Carbondale facilities were sold, the study contemplates establishing offices and a visitor center either in the El Jebel area, where the Forest Service still owns property at the old Mount Sopris Tree Farm, or in the Basalt area.
The midvalley facility could house offices for workers in both the Sopris and Aspen district, Upchurch said. The Aspen facility would be remodeled or replaced with a building that just housed a visitor center and maintenance equipment and supplies for the Maroon Bells.
Cables is scheduled to hear a presentation about the preliminary plan from Martha Ketelle, supervisor of the White River National Forest. He will decide whether the plan or part of the plan is worth pursuing, according to Upchurch.
The sale of any Forest Service property in Aspen or Carbondale would require approval by the U.S. Congress. The Forest Service has vowed to discuss any proposal with the public before making a decision.
Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig said town officials were aware that consolidation of Forest Service facilities is being contemplated, and they want to have input in the decision.
“People have made it clear in town they don’t want to be presented with a fait accompli,” he said.
Hassig said he understands the Forest Service’s desires to examine consolidation as a way to become more efficient. While he is unsure that the Forest Service office generates tourist traffic in downtown Carbondale, he believes the office is important for symbolic reasons.
“It has a lot to do, at least in my mind, with the community’s sense of itself,” Hassig said.
The consolidation of facilities has major implications for staffing in the districts in Aspen and Carbondale. The Aspen district has faced an increasingly tough time filling positions because no adjustment is made in salaries for the higher cost of living, according to Upchurch.
The districts have attempted to share personnel whenever possible. Upchurch, who is leaving the Aspen post to accept a job in Washington, D.C., said his position may not be filled. If consolidation of offices occurs, one ranger would oversee both districts, and an assistant ranger would be appointed.
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The Aspen City Council directed staff to move forward with the Burlingame early childhood education center, but decided it needs more information on the affordable housing units that are part of the schematic design at a work session Monday.