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Policy change could extend area camping

Janet Urquhart/Aspen Times fileWeller Campground southeast of Aspen is among the campgrounds in the White River National Forest that are slated to open earlier now that they're under the management of a new concessionaire.
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ASPEN – There might be happy campers for a longer time than usual this summer in the White River National Forest surrounding the Roaring Fork Valley.

The new operator of campgrounds and other facilities in the forest will open some campgrounds earlier in May than the prior concessionaire, according to Mike Kenealy, recreation special uses coordinator for the forest supervisor’s office. The new concessionaire, California Land Management Services, doing business as White River Recreation Co., also will experiment next fall by keeping some camp spots open past Labor Day weekend, he said.

The prior operator, Thousand Trails Management Services Inc., opened campgrounds the Thursday of Memorial Day weekend, at least the ones that weren’t covered in snow. Thousand Trails closed many campgrounds on Labor Day weekend, although some stayed open through hunting season on a limited basis.



Thousand Trails earned the contract to manage campgrounds in parts of the White River National Forest – including those up Independence Pass, the Fryingpan Valley and the Crystal Valley – in 2000. The contract was up for bid again this year and was won by White River Recreation Co.’s parent company.

Kenealy, a liaison between the Forest Service and the concessionaire, said White River Recreation Co. plans to open several campgrounds on May 17. The earlier opening will include Difficult Campground and Weller Campground southeast of Aspen. The company’s intention also is to open campgrounds, at least partially, in the Fryingpan Valley and Crystal Valley on May 17, Kenealy said.



The concessionaire proposed the earlier opening and later closing in its bid. A company representative confirmed it wants to try the earlier openings and later closings.

Kenealy said the Forest Service didn’t require the earlier opening and later closing as part of the new contract. The supervisor’s office doesn’t believe it is fair to dictate that campgrounds be open if there isn’t enough demand, he said. Nevertheless, the agency welcomes White River Recreation Co.’s willingness to try the longer opening.

The policy under Thousand Trails had some observers shaking their heads in bewilderment. Some of the most scenic car-camping sites in the country at Weller and Lost Man campgrounds were closed on the Tuesday after Labor Day – even when the aspen leaves were spectacular and the weather was nice.

White River Recreation Co. has implemented another change involving Ruedi Reservoir. The company instituted a lottery drawing to decide who gets 48 parking spaces for boats at the Ruedi Reservoir complex that includes the ramp for power boats. The ramp and parking are located adjacent to the Little Maud, Little Mattie, Molly B and marina campgrounds.

Under the old operator’s system, the same boat owners were allowed to renew parking leases for their boats year after year, Kenealy said. The parking spaces are coveted because boaters can avoid the hassle and expense of hauling their boats up to Ruedi Reservoir and back down later in the same day or same weekend.

Kenealy said the boat storage was first offered 15 or so years ago to make it more convenient for some boaters to use the marina and to take some boats off the road.

“It’s sort of unusual to have storage of personal property on national forest, but we felt the benefits outweighed the negatives,” Kenealy said.

Initially there were 35 parking spaces available for boats. It was expanded to 48. Thousand Trails offered to lease the parking spaces to the same users each year for a fee that worked out to slightly less than $200 per summer, according to Kenealy.

The boaters who had the spaces were eager to hold on to them.

“By default it became an entitlement over the years,” he said.

Meanwhile, the waiting list grew, and the boat owners on it were frustrated because so few openings became available.

White River Recreation Co. proposed in its bid for concessions to change the boat-parking system at the Ruedi complex to an annual lottery. The boat owners who held parking spaces for years “were not happy, understandably,” Kenealy said. But the Forest Service felt switching to an annual lottery was the most “fair and equitable” process of doling out the popular boat parking spaces, he said.

The lottery attracted 117 entrants, including most if not all the people who held parking spaces last year. The lottery was held Wednesday, and all entrants were informed of the outcome Saturday. Kenealy said 18 to 20 people who held parking spaces previously earned them in the lottery, at least for 2012. White River Recreation Co. is charging $200 per space for the summer.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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