Skico scales back summer plan in effort to protect elk | AspenTimes.com

Skico scales back summer plan in effort to protect elk

The Aspen Skiing Co. has scaled back its plan for summer activities at Elk Camp in Snowmass in order to protect elk and placate environmentalists.The Skico has agreed to a number of steps designed to steer summer activities away from Burnt Mountain and direct them instead to the west, or main, part of the ski area.”We’re managing things the way the Division of Wildlife wants them managed,” said Victor Gerdin, a Skico planner.The company has approval to build a new gondola from Base Village, under construction at Snowmass, to the bottom of the Elk Camp chairlift. The gondola and a new restaurant are expected to turn that part of the mountain into a summer hot spot.Past and present state wildlife officers as well as the Wilderness Workshop, one of the main local environmental groups, have criticized the Skico’s specific plan for summer activities for allegedly ignoring conditions for approval the U.S. Forest Service laid out in 1994.The two sides held meetings to try to avoid a fight during another, final round of Forest Service review of the Skico plan. Those talks proved fruitful.”Very friendly and reasonable discussions led to this,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop. “The Skico, much to their credit, realized the depth of the opposition to this project as it was proposed, and adjusted accordingly.”One of the key points of contention was the Skico’s plan to build four trails for hikers and bikers. Conservationists contended that was too many and that some were too close to Burnt Mountain, a haven for elk and other wildlife.In its compromise, the Skico said it will build only one trail and that it will be in the Sandy Park area, as far away from Burnt Mountain as possible. Two ridges separate that trail from Burnt Mountain.”That keeps the wildlife values more intact,” Shoemaker said.To back that promise, the Skico has asked the Forest Service to add the one-trail alternative during its current review of the application.In addition, the Skico agreed to herd hikers and bikers away from Burnt Mountain by closing terrain at the top of Elk Camp chairlift in the summer and trying to discourage hikers and bikers from seeking out other access. The Skico will also try to educate people about the importance of the wildlife habitat with special programs.The agreement also clarifies points that were interpreted differently from the Forest Service’s 1994 decision. The Skico agreed not to run chairlifts during the summer until after June 20, when elk calving season is over. Operations will end Sept. 30. Leashes will be required for dogs.The agreement honors a pledge a former Skico executive made last May. Bill Kane, who recently retired as the vice president of planning, promised no summer activities would interfere with wildlife.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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