New Summit hut plan in the works
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. ” The Summit Huts Association is considering several spots near Breckenridge for a new backcountry shelter, but proponents are wary of environmental concerns that scuttled the last effort.
The nonprofit organization may file a request with the U.S. Forest Service later this year after doing field studies up front this summer to learn about wildlife habitat, wetlands and other sensitivities.
The last proposal for a new hut faltered in 2001 because of concerns about impacts to a lynx corridor in the planned location between Copper Mountain and Vail Pass.
On this go-round, the organization is taking a careful approach, making sure to deal with those concerns early in the game, said Summit Huts president Dr. John Warner.
Development of a new hut could cost about $400,000 to $500,000 for a 1,500-square-foot structure Warner said.
“We’ve been going through the process with the Forest Service for several years. We discarded a couple of sites because of wildlife issues,” said Summit Huts operations manager Mike Zobbe.
Warner recently visited two potential spots with biologist Christi Carello, who also monitors Cucumber Gulch for the town of Breckenridge.
“We’re trying to put together a mini-environmental study related to wildlife issues,” Warner said.
An anonymous donation is funding the preliminary research, he said. One site is in Weber Gulch, on the north side of Bald Mountain, the other in Humbug Gulch on the west side of the Tenmile Range.
One location dropped from consideration was on Wise Mountain, where hut use could conflict with national forest zoning that requires preservation of lynx habitat, Zobbe said.
The association approached the U.S. Forest Service with a preliminary proposal for a Weber Gulch hut in an area zoned for non-motorized recreation, Zobbe said.
The agency’s winter-sports rangers want to know more about how wildlife uses the area, and also wants more details on access routes, he said.
“That’s going to take all summer to do,” Zobbe said.
Along with answering Forest Service questions, the huts association also has to consider other factors, including trailhead parking.
Other issues will surface during the process, Zobbe said, including community concerns about increased use of the backcountry and access trails.
“Some people think there should be no more additional use,” Zobbe said, referring to the Weber Gulch site.
Warner said a Humbug Gulch hut would be accessible to older people and families with kids, as it’s only about a 45-minute trip from the trailhead.
It could also provide a more challenging experience for backcountry travelers looking to trek between huts. A rugged Tenmile Range route would connect Humbug Gulch with Francie’s Cabin, he said.
Summit Huts operates Francie’s Cabin, Janet’s Cabin and the Section House. All three are very popular with backcountry trekkers, and reservations for peak weekends sell out far in advance.
Leaders of the huts association are determined to minimize the environmental impact of both new and existing facilities.
“Our vision is for the lowest possible carbon footprint,” Zobbe said, explaining that the organization wants to get away from using firewood, for example using a solar melter to provide water instead of the traditional wood-stove method.