Ranger: Cuts won’t affect this neck of woods | AspenTimes.com

Ranger: Cuts won’t affect this neck of woods

Scott Condon

Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN A U.S. Forest Service efficiency initiative that could close hundreds of campgrounds and other facilities across the West won’t have much effect in the Roaring Fork Valley, according to the Aspen-Sopris District ranger.Bill Westbrook, who is leaving his post next month for a similar job in Oregon, said no closures of campgrounds are foreseen in the 790,000 acres of the Aspen-Sopris District. There will be other, less noticeable impacts from the agency’s Recreation Site Facilities Master Plan, he said.For example, there are too many bathrooms at the Maroon Bells facilities, and some of them should be removed, he said. In other cases, the agency might decide bathrooms in disrepair at secluded trailheads should be removed rather than improved because of lack of funds to maintain them, according to Westbrook.However, he stressed, the effects of the facilities master plan process won’t generally be as great in the district as in some other forests in the region. For example, closures of between 40 and 50 facilities have been a topic of discussion in the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre National Forest near Grand Junction and Montrose, Westbrook noted.The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District and other districts in the White River National Forest may be spared simply from a numbers perspective. The White River has the highest number of recreation visits of any national forest in the country, according to Forest Service statistics. While most of those visits are to ski areas that use public lands, the White River also hosts hordes of campers, hikers, backpackers, mountain bikers and off-road enthusiasts.The forecast of greater recreation use is the result of a booming population.Critics also have ripped the Forest Service’s recreation facilities master plan process for being somewhat clandestine. All national forest administrators were ordered in 2002 to take an inventory of all facilities then assess where limited dollars could best be spent.While that will lead to recommendations for closures, it also could channel funds to facilities that are inadequate for the amount of use they receive, noted Lee Ann Loupe, public affairs officer for the White River and Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre national forests.She said there are some misconceptions about the process. The Forest Service examined all facilities, not just campgrounds. It assessed the viability of everything, including picnic areas, vehicle pullouts with interpretative signs and trailhead kiosks.There will be no actions without public review, according to Loupe. The draft master plans for districts in the White River are scheduled for review by officials in the Forest Service’s regional headquarters in Lakewood later this month. Once that review is complete, public meetings in the various ranger districts will be scheduled, Loupe said.Westbrook defended the recreation site facilities master plan process as something the Forest Service needs to do, and as not that different from a strategic planning exercise that a private business would undertake.Nevertheless, process could create headaches for the agency once the Forest Service unveils recommendations to the public. Westbrook learned that last summer when he started the process of “de-commissioning” Portal Campground.The seven-space campground is about eight miles up Lincoln Creek Road. It’s tucked in the woods along the banks of Grizzly Reservoir, in the shadow of Grizzly Peak, a majestic mountain just shy of 14,000 feet. While the campground isn’t exactly secluded, it requires an effort to reach via the high-clearance road.The concessionaire for campgrounds in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District didn’t want to operate Portal because it was too small and couldn’t produce enough revenue to justify a paid camp host. So, Westbrook placed the campground on the decommission list.The public outcry convinced him to reverse the decision.”I got calls from all over the country,” Westbrook said. While the campground is small, it has a lot of history. Some callers told him about fond memories from great family trips. A couple callers even told him about their weddings there.”Portal will stay open,” Westbrook said. “We will look at ways of maintaining it without affecting our allocated funds.”Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.