Skico gives Forest Service space for visitors’ center at Aspen Highlands
The U.S. Forest Service will team with Aspen Skiing Co. to open a visitors’ center at the base of Aspen Highlands this summer, and the federal agency will rely on a volunteer organization to help staff it.
The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District won’t open a visitors’ center at its office on West Hallam Street on Aspen’s S-curves for the first time in decades. Instead, it will open a center in the Highland’s ticket office. Travelers to the Maroon Bells buy their bus tickets there as well. Buses stage there, so the Forest Service said a visitors’ center will be a good fit.
The Forest Conservancy, a Roaring Fork Valley nonprofit with a mission to preserve the forest for future generations and enhance visitors’ experiences, will provide volunteers to help staff the center this summer.
The new Visitor Information Services office will open May 26. It will be open seven days per week into September. Bus service starts to Maroon Lake on June 13.
White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams confirmed earlier this month that the visitors’ center in the agency’s Aspen office wouldn’t open this year because of budget constraints. That was amplified in a statement from Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer on Monday.
“Relocating the (visitors’ center) to the Highlands location consolidates our seasonal services and reduces administrative costs while still providing a vital service to the public,” Schroyer said. “By locating at Highlands, we are able to supplement our Visitor Information Services with Maroon Bells staff and volunteers.”
Bill Kight, a spokesman for the forest supervisor’s office, said Monday that the Forest Service won’t have a lease with Skico and won’t pay a fee to use the space in the ticket office. In return for free space, the Forest Service will “provide monitoring of the Highlands parking lots, assisting with monitoring the facilities/bathrooms (especially on weekends) and interpretive and information services for the public who are buying bus passes to see Maroon Bells,” Kight said in an email.
The Forest Service considers the relocation of the visitors’ center to be a “pilot project.” It will evaluate the effectiveness of the change with Skico and the Forest Conservancy at the end of the summer. The future of the Forest Service building in Aspen “is still under consideration,” the agency said. The building will remain a work center for upper-valley employees this year but will be closed to the public. The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District also has an office in Carbondale.
Phone calls placed to the Aspen Ranger Station will be forwarded to the Aspen Highlands Visitor Information Services and ticketing office and answered by a U.S. Forest Service representative at 970-945-3300 or 970-925-3445.
Marcia Johnson, executive director of the Forest Conservancy, said the organization is recruiting among its existing lineup of about 125 volunteers to help staff the visitors’ center at Highlands. She said she also hopes new people sign up to help this summer.
“If every one of our volunteers takes just one day, we’ll have every day covered,” she said.
The Forest Conservancy has 20 volunteers in its Forest Ambassador program who work exclusively at the Maroon Bells. They were approached first to help staff the new facility because they are most knowledgeable about the Maroon Bells, according to Johnson. To apply as a Visitor Information Service volunteer, log on to http://www.forestconservancy.com/volunteering or call 970-963-8071.
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