USFS: Thinning at huts will be ‘mosaic’ |

USFS: Thinning at huts will be ‘mosaic’

Scott Condon
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association is taking the risk of wildfire serious enough that it plans to thin the forest around a dozen of its backcountry cabins.

The hut association has teamed with the U.S. Forest Service to propose a hazardous fuels reduction project on 42 acres surrounding the cabins. The project will affect terrain around the McNamara and Margy’s huts, northeast of Aspen, and the Benedict Hut on Smuggler Mountain.

The other nine huts where work is proposed are scattered on the White River and Pike-San Isabel national forests. Those huts are: 10th Mountain Division, Betty Bear, Eiseman, Peter Estin, Fowler-Hilliard, Harry Gates, Jackal, Skinner and Uncle Bud’s.

All dozen cabins are owned and operated by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association but located in national forests. They were approved through special-use permits.

Forest Service officials stressed that the “driving force” behind the project was the administration of the backcountry hut system. Hut association director Ben Dodge contacted Forest Service officials after the 2002 fire season, when a fire swept through West Glenwood Springs and also struck in Missouri Heights. Dodge said the vegetation surrounding some of the huts was overdue for thinning.

The project contemplates removing dead and dying vegetation around the huts and associated buildings, and thinning out some trees and shrubs.

Dodge said summer visitors will notice the loss of vegetation. However, the wintertime visitors won’t be able to tell there’s much of a difference. About 75 percent of the huts’ use comes during winters.

The project won’t denude the areas around the huts. Vegetation will be thinned in a “mosaic pattern,” according to Dodge.

“People don’t want to go up and see a hut in the middle of a clear-cut,” he said.

Dodge vowed that the project will balance the need to boost safety against wild-land fires and still retain the desirable environment that exists around the cabins.

The amount of trees and branches will be small, not even enough to provide firewood for the huts, according to Dodge. But he believes the work will go a long way toward reducing the risk of wild-land fires spreading to the huts or, more likely, a fire spreading to the forest if it breaks out in one of the huts.

The public will have a chance to comment on the project during the planning stage, according to federal fire management officer Frankie Romero. Written comments must be submitted by March 22 to Bill Westbrook, Aspen District Ranger, 806 W. Hallam St., Aspen, CO 81611.

If the project is accepted by the public and receives the necessary approvals, the work could begin in summer 2004.

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