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Maroon Lake plan is costly

A U.S. Forest Service proposal to build a visitors’ center near Maroon Lake is facing a second strike.An internal review determined that the project as proposed isn’t as economical as some scaled-down alternatives, Aspen District Ranger Jim Upchurch confirmed Tuesday.A “value-analysis team” comprised of Forest Service personnel from Lakewood, Colo., spent the last three weeks assessing five options for the project, ranging from building it as proposed to doing nothing. Their study examined economics and “bang for the buck,” said Upchurch.That team hasn’t released its written report yet, but Upchurch said “some of the other alternatives scored higher” than the full-build proposal.The $1.3 million visitors’ center received its first strike earlier this fall when members of an informal task force of citizens working with the Forest Service criticized it as too big and out of character with the natural beauty at the base of the Maroon Bells.The center is the last piece of a $6 million redevelopment project that started in 1995. The Forest Service has already constructed a new entrance station and relocated the main parking lot downvalley from Maroon Lake.The agency is in the process of completing a $1.4 million bathroom and bus stop. That facility was built mostly underground, creating a bunker effect.The visitors’ center was supposed to be a companion structure. The 4,500-square-foot underground facility was proposed as a place where visitors could learn more about wildlife and the environment, get information from forest rangers, take shelter from storms and buy items from a gift shop.However, the value analysis team determined that three other legitimate options should be considered.They were:-Scale down the proposal to about one-quarter of the proposed size. Limited services would be offered at Maroon Lake while an interpretative center could be provided at Aspen Highlands Village.-Split facilities at the Maroon Lake site. They would be divided between the main parking lot and the proposed site for the visitors’ center.-Reduce the visitors’ center down to just a small shelter.The “do nothing” alternative wasn’t considered a serious option.Upchurch said he couldn’t share specifics on which alternatives ranked highest until the written report is released. He also warned that the final decision could be different from the value analysis team’s findings.”That’s a recommendation to the decision-makers,” he said.Upchurch and White River National Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle are the ultimate decision-makers on the issue. He said they may be prepared to make a final decision in two or three weeks.


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