Ophir Mountain project aims to remove hundreds of acres’ worth of trees between Frisco and Breckenridge | SummitDaily.com

Ophir Mountain project aims to remove hundreds of acres’ worth of trees between Frisco and Breckenridge

The last phase of project to remove a wide swath of beetle-kill trees between Frisco and Breckenridge got underway this month.

Known as the Ophir Mountain Forest Health and Fuels Project and first approved in November 2011, the effort would complete the White River National Forest's plans to mitigate fire fuels on almost 800 acres of U.S. Forest Service land near where the Peak 2 Fire broke out last summer.

About 515-acres of mitigation work was previously done just south of Frisco and west of Summit High School between 2013 and 2014, said Bill Jackson of the Dillon Ranger District.

"The Ophir Mountain Forest Health and Fuels Project is a proactive effort to continue to connect areas of defensible space around the communities of Summit County," said Jackson. "At the same time, tree removal will make way for new growth, cultivate more diversity of tree species and age classes within the ecosystem — creating a more resilient forest to future disturbances such as insects and wildfire."

“A few years ago there was more public opposition to fuels treatment work. We weren’t seeing many wildfires in and around Summit County as we have over the last three years.”Bill JacksonDillon Ranger District

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Clear cutting on Forest Service land hasn't always been a popular prospect in Summit County. As recently as 2015 a number of residents in the county were staging a resistance to the Ophir Mountain Project, wanting instead to preserve the natural landscape and let Mother Nature take care of herself.

But Jackson believes that the lack of resistance to mitigation work in recent months points to changing attitudes among Summit residents as a result of the Peak 2 and Buffalo fires.

"A few years ago there was more public opposition to fuels treatment work," said Jackson. "We weren't seeing many wildfires in and around Summit County as we have over the last three years. But after experiencing the Peak 2 and Buffalo fires, as well as a series of smaller wildfires we were able to jump on right away, I think people are realizing that there is a threat from wildfire. Public sentiment has changed."

The work will be done by West Range Forest Products out of Gypsum, which signed onto an $8.66 million long-term contract in 2012 focusing on the removal of tree species susceptible to insect and disease infestations. Jackson said the contract for the Ophir Mountain Project is worth almost $2 million alone, though about $1.6 million is being paid for by Denver Water through its "From Forests to Faucets" initiative.

Jackson noted that the Ophir Mountain Project had become a clear priority for West Range.

"We sit down with them in early winter and late spring," Jackson said, referring to West Range Forest Products. "We don't have much influence over where they operate at any given time, but we suggested that we'd like to see Ophir complete, especially in the light of Peak 2."

Operations are expected to continue throughout the summer and into the fall. The contractor will be cutting and hauling trees via Gateway Drive, and visitors should expect to see log trucks and chip vans entering Highway 9 from Gateway Drive at Gold Hill.

The Dillon Ranger District doesn't anticipate any long-term road or trail closures as a result of the work, though Jackson noted there may be rolling trail closures depending on where mitigation work is being done on any given day. But once the project is complete, hikers can expect future trail improvements in the area.

"There might be some closures for public safety purposes as they're dropping trees," said Jackson. "A lot of the trails in the area have not been signed, and we've never put any big investments on the trails out there because we knew these projects were coming up. We wanted to get this timber project done, so in the future there's going to be better opportunities for trail improvements and signage."