Forest Service working to minimize environmental impact of proposed Breckenridge Ski Resort Peak 7 chairlift
Editor’s note: This story has been changed to show the correct name of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife representative, Tom Davies, who made recommendations to the Forest Service.
FRISCO — Public comment has closed, and now the Breckenridge Ski Resort proposal to add a chairlift to its existing Peak 7 terrain is being analyzed by the U.S. Forest Service.
Some community members have expressed concern about the Cucumber Gulch Preserve and other nearby wetland and wildlife impacts. In a letter to the editor, Benjamin Hubley voiced his fear of the fate of these ecosystems pending Forest Service approval.
“Cucumber Gulch Preserve is a wildlife habitat and a delicate ecosystem that our community is heavily invested in and works hard to protect. The proposed bottom terminal would be smack in the middle of wetlands. Any construction and regular traffic could possibly damage the wetlands. Additionally, this proposal cuts through a major wildlife corridor into the preserve,” Hubley wrote.
Hubley recognized the need to ease skier traffic on Peak 7 but urged the Forest Service to re-evaluate the plan.
The U.S. Forest Service said the lift plan actually avoids the wetlands.
“Analysis is yet to be (complete), but as planned, we know we can avoid the wetlands and avoid impacting the wetlands,” said Scott Fitzwilliams, U.S. Forest Service supervisor for the White River National Forest.
Fitzwilliams explained that the terminal will be placed adjacent to the wetlands not in the wetlands. He also said that while these particular wetlands are near Cucumber Gulch, they do not feed into the reserve and are part of a different drainage system.
The proposed terminal site is adjacent to the Upper Cucumber Creek Watershed not the Cucumber Gulch Watershed, according to Bill Jackson, Dillon Ranger District ranger for the White River National Forest.
“Hydrologically, they’re separate,” he said. “That was an early concern when this project was originally proposed. But with the help of SE Group, we’ve put out a better map about where this lift lies on the ground,” Jackson said.
Jackson explained that the Forest Service uses specialists to evaluate environmental impact. A Forest Service hydrologist and wetlands specialist, who was contracted through SE Group’s Frisco branch, defined the boundaries for the project based on the wetlands.
As for the potential impacts to wildlife corridors, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials determined in written comments that the proposed project would have minimal negative effects on wildlife as the area is already highly trafficked by humans.
However, CPW Wildlife Manager, Tom Davies, made several recommendations to reduce impact:
- Conduct a raptor survey before any trees are cut or lift towers are installed
- Rehab and reseed all disturbed areas with native vegetation
- Prohibit construction from May 15 to June 30 to reduce impacts to big game fawning and calving
Jackson explained that impacts to wildlife that could occur would most likely be during the actual construction of the lift, which he said could be minimized using existing Forest Service guidelines for ski area projects.
Based on current findings, Fitzwilliams said he foresees minimal impact on the neighboring ecosystems but said the analysis process will be lengthy to allow for thorough considerations.
“It’ll be months, not days, before we’re completely done with analysis,” he said. “We’ll evaluate the level of analysis we need based on comments we receive. We’ll continue to work through it, and if issues come up, we’ll consider other options.”
Fitzwilliams said he expects the analysis to be complete this winter.
If approved, Breckenridge could begin work as soon as spring 2020.
“We are working closely with the U.S. Forest Service on this project and have designed the proposed lift alignment and terminal locations to have the smallest footprint possible and to minimize environmental impacts,” Breckenridge spokeswoman Sara Lococo wrote in an email.
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