Colorado’s White River is the country’s busiest national forest, with a $1.6B impact. But can it keep it up? |

Colorado’s White River is the country’s busiest national forest, with a $1.6B impact. But can it keep it up?

“The answer here is not another lane on 70,” forest chief Scott Fitzwilliams says as he plans robust community discussions on the future of White River

Jason Blevins
The Colorado Sun
People hike along the parked vehicles overflowing the Spruce Creek Road on a Saturday morning, Aug. 6, 2022, south of Breckenridge. The White River National Forest's Dillon Ranger District ranked as the most trafficked district, including the area around Breckenridge.
Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun

White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams says “there’s a humbling feeling” when he reviewed a recently published economic analysis showing his forest as not just the most trafficked forest in the country but also an unrivaled economic engine.

The analysis of all 111 U.S. Forest Service properties shows the White River atop the list, supporting 22,230 jobs and stirring an economic impact of nearly $1.6 billion. The dozens of communities within the 131-year-old forest, which includes 11 ski hills, eight wilderness areas and four large reservoirs, lean heavily on the recreation offered in the White River forest’s 2.3 million acres. 

Fitzwilliams also sees alarm bells in the soaring visitation and economic numbers. It’s time to direct more funding into the forest, he says, and build a new plan that weighs record traffic and economic contributions alongside the ecological capacity of a stressed forest. 

“We can’t say ‘Let’s keep going and we want all the same stuff,’” he says. “We’ve reached the point where that is impossible. We can’t get to our desired future staying on the exact same path without taking some different steps.”

The agency’s triennial “Economic Contributions from National Forest and Grasslands” analysis of its 111 forest and grassland areas from 2019 shows recreation contributing 96% of the economic activity and visitors flowing from the White River National Forest. The study combines spending by visitors and forest-dependent employers with the economic impact of earnings, which accounts for more than $960 million in wages for workers connected to the forest.


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