Proposed Summit County backcountry hut under U.S. Forest Service environmental review
Ryan Summerlin August 24, 2013
The environmental assessment can be found at www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/projects by navigating to Land and Resource Management and clicking on Projects. A printed copy of the environmental assessment is available for review at the Dillon Ranger District in Silverthorne.
Another backcountry hut destination could be in store for Summit County snow enthusiasts.
The Forest Service recently completed a draft environmental assessment on the Weber Gulch backcountry hut proposal on Bald Mountain east of Breckenridge, and are seeking public comment on the project.
Summit Huts Association proposed building a new structure in 2007, Mike Zobbe, the organization’s director, said. Right now, the demand for backcountry huts in Summit County exceeds the supply.
The organization is running near capacity for current huts and has had to adopt a lottery reservation system for people who want to visit the huts during peak times of the season, he said.
Summit Huts Association is a nonprofit that’s currently operating four cabins. Janet’s Cabin is located in Guller Gulch, a roadless area between Copper Mountain and Vail Pass. Francie’s Cabin is about 4 miles south of Breckenridge, in the Crystal Lakes Drainage. The Section House and Ken’s Cabin are historic buildings near Boreas Pass. The Section House is operated by the Forest Service as a historic interpretive site. The other three can be rented out through the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association.
People involved with Summit Huts Association thought it was worth building a new hut, because they believe in the experience it provides for the user.
“It’s a non-motorized form of recreation and we feel that is a positive thing for people to experience,” Zobbe said. “It’s a growth experience for the customer, especially people who are not hard-core backcountry skiers or snowshoers.”
The proposed Weber Gulch backcountry hut would be located on the northern aspect of Bald Mountain at about 11,500 feet. The hut would be between 1,400 and 2,000 square feet, and would accommodate 16 guests. The project includes the construction of a 1.5-mile trail and the addition of about 20 parking spots at an existing lot at the Lincoln town site.
By law, the project must undergo an environmental review process before it is approved.
“We analyze the impacts of any project that is ground-disturbing on forestland,” said Forest Service ranger Shelly Grail. “Our specialists weigh in on the project to make sure the issues are addressed.”
Grail has been working on the project with a variety of professionals from the Forest Service and other state agencies, recruiting wildlife biologists, fisheries specialists, hydrologists and archaeologists to provide insight into the environmental review process. The public also had a chance to weigh in on the project in 2011, Grail said.
“Feedback taken from comments during this scoping period helped us take a deeper look at the project,” she said. As a result, the Forest Service decided to take summer use off the table to prevent potential negative impacts to lynx habitat and vegetation.
Getting approval for the backcountry hut has been a step-by-step process, and the completion of the environmental assessment is a step in the right direction, Zobbe said.
The Forest Service is accepting written comments regarding the hut. They must be submitted to Scott Fitzwilliams, Forest Supervisor c/o Shelly Grail Braudis, Project Leader, U.S. Forest Service, P.O. Box 620, Silverthorne CO 80498, or faxed to (970) 468-7735. Hand-delivered comments may be submitted at the Dillon Ranger District between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Electronic comments must be submitted in an email or word document to email@example.com.