Lynx halt plan for Tennessee Pass hut |

Lynx halt plan for Tennessee Pass hut

Melanie Wong
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

LEADVILLE, Colo. ” Plans for a new backcountry hut near Tennessee Pass have been canceled to protect endangered lynx that live in the area.

The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association plans would have put two new buildings for backcountry trips in Jones Gulch, which is owned by the U.S. Forest Service. The area is between Camp Hale and Ski Cooper, outside of Leadville, and home to endangered Canada lynx as well as elk.

However, findings from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service showed that a hut in Jones Gulch, or anywhere on the Vail Pass area, would hurt the ability of lynx to thrive there, said the Hut Association’s executive director, Ben Dodge.

The Hut Association, which operates 29 backcountry huts in the mountain region between Aspen and Vail, had wanted to build the Jones Gulch Hut for almost a decade as a link to another nearby hut, Vance’s Cabin.

With the new hut, backcountry hikers, backcountry skiers and mountain bikers would be able to do “linked hut trips” going to both of the huts. Also, Jones Gulch is closer to the trail head than Vance’s Cabin, and the trek there would be a much easier trip, Dodge said.

An earlier review of the project from the U.S. Forest Service showed that a hut would “likely adversely affect” the lynx in the area.

The damage to lynx would be “more than minimal,” but could be worse, said Dave VanNorman, recreation staff with the White River National Forest.

However, until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife study, the Hut Association had hoped to build the hut with minimal construction impacts.

For now, any plans for new huts on Vail Pass area will be on hold until more studies are done on the impacts on lynx.

“This decision was made because it seems most wise and reflective of strong stewardship values to gather more information on the ability of Canada lynx to thrive in the general area before adding more activity,” Dodge said.

The decision comes as a relief to Tennessee Pass residents who opposed the Jones Gulch Hut. It would have hurt lynx, brought more people to the area, and disturbed one of the few wild areas left, residents said.

The Forest Service and Hut Association said they worked with the residents, conservation groups, snowmobile groups and scientists to make the decision.

There may still be new huts in the future, with community support and without endangering area wildlife, Dodge said.

“It’s a fairly important decision for us to step away from this project. It’s involving the greater Vail Pass area, not just for this hut,” he said