Bill could put Meadow Mountain facilities on market | VailDaily.com

Bill could put Meadow Mountain facilities on market

Tamara Miller

The parking lot at the ever-popular Meadow Mountain fills up almost daily in the summer months with hikers and mountain bikers, thanks to its convenient location off U.S. Highway 6 near Minturn. However a bill traveling through Congress could change that. The bill, which Republican Colorado Congressman Scott McInnis introduced last month, would allow local U.S. Forest Service officials to sell, swap or lease land and use the money to consolidate and replace administrative facilities. Meadow Mountain’s parking lot and ranger station are on a list of parcels the Forest Service could dispose of along with 15 other pieces of land in the White River National Forest, nine of which are in Eagle County. Will Olson of Vail said he rides his mountain bike on Meadow Mountain’s trails. While cyclists usually just ride their bikes to the mountain from Vail, hikers and kayakers usually drive and park their cars at the base of Meadow Mountain. “It’s a convenient place for people to start from,” he said. Forest Service officials say that no property would be sold, swapped or auctioned off without hearing public input first. “If and when we were to say convey that Meadow Mountain parcel, we would retain access rights and that kind of thing,” said Cal Wettstein, district ranger. “With any trail system, we always retain rights-of-way for those sort of things.”There’s no way we should be shuffling properties before consulting with the community,” Wettstein said.But public input was bypassed before this legislation was introduced, said Lawrence Pacheco, spokesman for Congressman Mark Udall, the Democrat who represents Eagle County. And that’s just one of the Congressman’s concerns, Pacheco said. “One of our staffers has been calling communities in Summit and Eagle County to ask if they knew about the bill,” Pacheco said. “Many didn’t even know it had been introduced.” Faced with a declining budget and increasing costs, Forest Service officials have planned on merging the local administrative offices into one in Eagle for some time. The idea of cutting costs sparked the White River Facilities Master Plan, a list of suggested ways to do just that, including allowing the Forest Service to enter into private partnerships. McInnis’ bill simply provides the Forest Service with the tools to achieve that, said Blair Jones, McInnis’ press secretary. “I think Mr. Udall’s office is obviously misinformed because the Forest Service has done extensive outreach on their master plan,” he said. “That does not make (selling the parcels) a done deal. The Forest Service simply has these parcels and they are simply recommendations at this point.”County Commissioner and longtime Minturn resident Michael Gallagher supports the idea of giving local Forest Service officials the ability to decide what to do with “surplus” land.”I think it’s a marvelous thing that Washington decides the local Forest Service can do things more effectively than the ivory tower in D.C.,” he said. When he served as Minturn’s mayor in the 1990s, Gallagher said he worked with the Forest Service toward establishing more contiguous groups of land – rather than chunks of broken up parcels. That goal was never achieved at the time.”If they can make that happen, it would be great,” he said. Staff writer Tamara Miller can be reached via e-mail at tmiller@vaildaily.com or by calling 949-0555, ext. 607.Congressman Scott McInnis has introduced a bill that allows local White River National Forest Service staff to sell, swap or lease 16 pieces of land, including the following nine in Eagle County: • The Eagle Ranger District Office and home next door – 0.3 acres• A maintenance shop in Eagle and neighboring pasture – 8 acres• A Forest Service-owned home on Washington Street in Eagle – 0.2 acres• The parking lot, visitor’s center and Holy Cross Ranger District office in Minturn – 10 acres• A storage area in Minturn – 5 acres• A housing compound in Minturn – 7 acres• Land in Minturn known as the Cross Creek Parcel -10 acres• The Old Tree Nursery in El Jebel – 29 acres