Increased population, skier numbers driving changes in Summit County
SUMMIT COUNTY – In 1984, when the last White River National Forest Plan was updated, mountain bikes were making their debut. Season ski passes cost almost $1,000. Few had ever heard of boreal toads or noxious weeds. The Canada lynx was known to live, well, in Canada.
A lot has changed since then, and those changes have been incorporated into the Revised Forest Plan, released Tuesday after six years of study, input and analysis about how the 2.275 million-acre forest should be managed.
The Forest Plan is considered an overview, much like a zoning plan is in a city. Details – outlined in a separate Travel Management Plan to be released most likely in the next couple of years – address which roads and trails are open to what kind of vehicles and uses, and at what time of year. The first plans had eight management areas; the 1984 plan had 27. The new plan has 37.
“I chose Alternative K because it provides a wide variety of recreation opportunities and forest uses while promoting ecosystem health,” wrote Regional Forester Rick Cables in the Record of Decision. “Alternative K is the logical outgrowth of the alternative development and public involvement parts of the plan revision process.”
“I’m very, very excited,” said Dillon District Ranger Jamie Connell. “I’m equally excited about moving into the Travel Management portion. And we’re lucky in Summit County; we have people willing to participate.”
On the surface, it appears Forest Service officials took into account the thousands of comments submitted by the public regarding uses on the forest.
“I think we were very able to accommodate a large percentage of public comment,” Connell said. “There will be people who won’t agree, but that shows us that public and forest planning process weren’t that far off. People came to the meetings and they submitted well-developed, articulate comments. I was pleased with that.”
According to the new plan, population growth in Summit County – which grew by 82 percent between 1990 and 2000 – is the driving force behind the changes in the Forest Plan in the eastern end of the White River National Forest.
Recreation and skiing
The 1984 Forest Plan forecast tremendous growth in hiking, snowmobiling, fishing and cross-country skiing – a forecast that fell short by almost half because it failed to take into consideration the popularity of mountain bikes and technological innovations such as lightweight snowshoes.
The new plan anticipates that sports other than skiing will grow by 3.3 percent, while downhill skiing grows by .7 percent annually.
Yet Summit County ski resorts are expected to grow in skier visit numbers more than any other county in the White River National Forest. Most of the 800,000 new residents expected to move to Colorado this decade will likely settle on the Front Range, the plan reads. If these residents ski at the rate existing residents did in the 2000-’01 season, there will be between 804,000 and 855,814 skier days in Colorado. Half of those are expected to be in Summit County.
To address that growth – and to alleviate congestion on the state’s most crowded slopes – the Forest Plan proposes to reallocate acreage to Summit’s various resorts. According to data compiled by the Forest Service, Breckenridge is the most crowded, with 687 skiers per acre. It is followed by Keystone, with 653 skiers, and A-Basin with 498. Those ski areas will see new acreage allocations opened up to disperse the crowds and increase safety.
The Forest Service will recommend Congress expand the Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness Area to include land on Ute Peak and in the Acorn Creek drainage northeast of Silverthorne. Only hikers, leashed dogs and pack animals will be permitted in wilderness areas.
In other parts of the forest, all motorized and mechanized users must now stay on designated roads and trails to protect natural resources.
To protect the natural resources in Summit County’s two wilderness areas, the Plan will limit groups of visitors to a maximum of 15 people with a combination of 25 people and pack or saddle animals.
Additionally, three areas of “special interest” are outlined in the new Forest Plan. Porcupine Gulch, a 1,570-acre parcel west of Loveland Pass, will be protected for its botanical resources because it is in excellent ecological condition and provides representation for high-elevation ecosystem types.
Another special interest area is Quandary Peak, with 4,080 acres prescribed to protect botanical resources, including high-alpine plant communities, alpine wetlands, fens and potential habitat for 10 – and existing for two – state-identified rare species.
The third is the Continental Divide Land Bridge, a 4,430-acre parcel above the Eisenhower Tunnel that provides the only unobstructed travel corridor for animals traveling north and south. They include bighorn sheep, mountain goats, mule deer, elk, pine marten and potentially, lynx and wolverine.
Another area, extending from Georgia Pass north through the Middle Fork of the Swan River and into an area between A-Basin and Keystone and then north again across the Straight Creek drainage, will be protected as possible lynx habitat.
Timber cuts, for either sale or wildlife habitat improvement or fire prevention, will be permitted from Breckenridge north along the valley floor to the county boundary near Green Mountain Reservoir. Forest Service officials plan to continue with land acquisitions and trades with local communities.
Most local officials had barely put a dent in the nearly 1,000-page document Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m just happy that it’s out,” said County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom. “We’ve turned all the information to our planning staff and they’re doing a detailed analysis. Then we’ll compare it to recommendations we turned over to the Forest Service.”
“It’s important to recognize that no plan is ever perfect and there is always room to make improvements,” said U.S. Congressman Mark Udall, who after redistricting represents Summit County. “Whether a plan is supported or opposed is always a question of whose ox is gored. I would have preferred to see more recommendations for wilderness, and I am concerned about making sure there is enough protection for wildlife, water resources and habitat, but I’m guardedly optimistic that this plan can be one that most Coloradans can support.”
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