Frisco residents face prospect of tree loss on peninsula |

Frisco residents face prospect of tree loss on peninsula

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Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk

FRISCO ” Residents seem resigned to the inevitability of Frisco’s plan to remove nearly three-quarters of the trees standing in the town portion of the Peninsula Recreation Area over the next three years.

As a result of efforts to deal with pine beetle infestation and other tree disease, Nordic skiers, disc golf players and nearby residents will be unavoidably affected by clearance of the majority of the area’s shade.

“We’re concerned that more sun exposure will burn more snow,” avid Nordic skier Hans Wurster said. “But I don’t see that we’ve got much choice. You can’t argue with cutting them down.” Wurster went on to say that as much as he’ll miss the trees, he’ll manage without them.

“We ski at the golf course all winter,” he said, referring to the Gold Run Nordic Center at Breckenridge’s golf course, “and there are no trees there.”

About 20 residents, government officials and timber business operators showed up Thursday night at town hall to hear the specifics of the Frisco’s 10-year forest management plan, set to begin late this month or in early May.

The peninsula ecosystem, like much of Summit County, is dominated by lodgepole pines very close in age, Frisco public works assistant director Rick Higgins told the audience. Aged trees, negatively affected by recent drought years, are prime targets for pine beetle infestation.

“We’ve spent a considerable amount of time chasing the pine beetle,” Higgins said. “There have been some very discouraging years.”

In an effort to develop a unified approach to dealing with the pine beetle problem, Frisco hired a forestry consultant to study overall vegetation health on the town-owned section of the peninsula. The report, completed last fall, recommended a radical solution for the extensive problems found with the trees in the recreation area. Between 9,000 and 12,000 of the approximately 15,000 trees on Frisco’s portion of the peninsula are slated for removal.

All the mature trees, including those not yet infested with pine beetles, are scheduled to be cleared from the area with the greatest amount of beetle kill, which encompasses more than half the 217 acres the town owns, and includes the area around both the disc golf course and the Frisco Bay Nordic trail. Removal of the older trees will allow revitalization and growth in the existing understory of trees and plants less than 6 feet tall.

Waterdance resident Phil Sanderman said he came to the Thursday’s meeting to get more information and to express his concern about removal of all the mature trees near his neighborhood.

“They should leave a buffer of some larger trees,” he said, “so that you’re not just looking out over a moonscape.” Sanderman, who has already removed a third of the trees on his own property, also mentioned the importance of salvaging some older trees to act as a windbreak for the Waterdance houses.

Higgins said he has not ruled out the possibility of spraying, rather than removing, some genetically healthy, larger trees near buildings. The problem, he said, with trying to save some of the trees is that the whole area is past its prime.

And the trees aren’t getting any younger.

“The mature trees are starting to move toward declining growth rates,” he told the audience. “Their health is starting to affect younger trees.”

Jon Harrington, owner of Alpine Gardens in Silverthorne, remembers the pine beetle epidemic in the early 1980s and acknowledges the rationale behind the town’s plan.

“I think this is an aggressive plan,” he said. “But you’re dealing with a specific ecosystem of lodgepole pine that has developed over the years.” Extensive 19th Century clearcutting, for timber for the mining industry, together with 100 years of fire suppression have combined to create an essentially unhealthy woodland, he explained.

Harrington agreed with Higgins that selective cutting has the potential to create more problems.

“Selective thinning opens the canopy and lets the wind come through,” he said. Lodgepoles, he added, require a minimum amount of density to avoid blow-down from high winds. Harrington expressed his skepticism about the value of last year’s thinning done alongside Highway 9 near the reservoir.

“I don’t think that stuff’s going to last,” he said, referring to the sparse collection of remaining trees.

Higgins estimates close to 3,600 trees will be removed this year, and the south side of the property near Highway 9 will be the first area addressed.

Other areas of the town-owned property with less beetle impact will continue to be monitored for the pine beetle, and infested trees will be removed annually. Some areas without significant infestation will be commercially thinned.

The first three years of the plan will cost the town an average of $80,000 per year. After that, Higgins said, the plan will be re-evaluated. Nordic trail routes may then need modification. The overall number of trees requiring removal may eventually exceed initial estimates.

Harriet Hamilton can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13624, or at

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