EAGLE COUNTY — The White River National Forest is a lot of things to a lot of people. The forest also takes a lot of effort to keep it running.
The Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District is mostly in Eagle County, and takes up a good portion of the county’s geography. The district stretches from the top of Vail and Tennessee passes into Glenwood Canyon, then south through Fulford and Sylvan Lake.
Given the size of the local ranger district, you’d expect a lot of summer work to go on every year, and you’d be right. This summer’s projects include everything from asbestos abatement and trail work to campground maintenance and improvement.
Aaron Mayville is the new deputy district ranger for the Eagle-Holy Cross area. He recently took some time to run down a partial list of projects.
Perhaps the most involved of those projects is a multi-year plan for the Camp Hale area. This summer’s work includes a continued assessment of the risk posed by unexploded ordinance left behind by the 10th Mountain Division in the 1940s, as well as finding and removing asbestos left behind when the army pulled out.
Other parts of the plan include un-straightening the Eagle River, which was put on a straight channel to make room for barracks in the 1940s.
partners for improvement
The plans for Camp Hale, such as other projects on the forest, wouldn’t happen without a lot of help. No matter which party is in charge in Washington, D.C., the Forest Service seems to be chronically under-funded, which generally results in too few people to do the myriad projects required on a national forest the size of Yellowstone National Park.
That means Forest Service officials have to rely on private groups for help. The Camp Hale project is a great example, Mayville said. There, partners range from the National Forest Foundation to the Avon-based Walking Mountains Science Center.
Mayville said a lot of work on the forest simply wouldn’t get done without help from other agencies.
For instance, the city of Glenwood Springs this year provided funding for a full-time ranger for the very popular Hanging Lake trail. That trail, which starts off from Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, is exceptionally busy in the summer, with signs on the interstate frequently stating that the parking lot at the trailhead is full.
Back on this side of the canyon, volunteer and nonprofit groups are involved in projects around the forest.
In addition to work at Camp Hale, Walking Mountains is also putting a group of paid interns — 12 local high school science students — to work analyzing and researching aquatic life along Homestake Creek, the upper Eagle River and the Piney River.
Walking Mountains director Markian Feduschak said the partnerships with the Forest Service accomplish a few things. First, working with the Forest Service helps fulfill Walking Mountains’ mission as an educational organization. Working with the Forest Service is also crucial to help ensure Walking Mountains can continue to have access and run its programs on public lands.
“It’s one of our most important partnerships,” Feduschak said.
That partnership works in other ways, too. Feduschak said the Forest Service helps Walking Mountains with housing in the winter, while another partner, Vail Resorts, helps with housing for the summer.
Other groups also help out on the forest. This year, the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative will help with trail maintenance and campground improvements near Mount of the Holy Cross, and the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps will help install bear-resistant food lockers at the Yeoman Campground up East Brush Creek southeast of Eagle.
Private sector partners are essential, too. The forest between Vail and Piney Lake has for years been the site of logging and other “forest health” projects. This year there will be logging in the area, with trucks coming through Vail. Mayville said the Forest Service worked with the logging company to limit trips through Vail itself.
It’s a lot of work, and this story has covered only part of it. But it’s all essential, given the size of the forest and the number of people who use it.
“Even without ski visits (the entire forest) gets around 7 million visitors a year,” Mayville said.