Building your hot tub on someone else’s land |

Building your hot tub on someone else’s land

Preston Utley/Vail DailyA herd of mule deer graze in Singletree in this photo from March. Conservationists say the routes wildlife travel must be a consideration when building homes in the High Country.

Whether living in the High Country for a few weeks out of the year or all year long, having a home close to open space ” which is usually public land ” presents the challenge of being a good neighbor.

“We see people who have started using the forest as their backyard,” said District Ranger Cal Wettstein, the chief ranger in Eagle County.

Rick Newton, the Dillon district ranger, said he’s seen hot tubs, swing sets, wells and septic tanks on Forest Service land ” all of which are not only illegal but bad for the land. And Cindy Dean, a real estate specialist with the Aspen/Sopris District, said her district constantly deals with missing or moved Forest Service boundary markers.

They’ve also seen residents carve their own hiking trails into the land.

“We like people to use the forest, but the trails that they build aren’t well engineered,” said Wettstein, who added that shoddily built trails can contribute to erosion. Trails that aren’t professionally built usually aren’t stable, so as people use them, they start to widen and slip downhill.

Newcomers to the area and second home-owners are also guilty of not knowing what it takes to live in the mountains, whether it’s disposing of trash to avoid bears or steering clear of delicate elk calving grounds in the spring, said Randy Hampton, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Keeping a barrier between wildlife and people is imperative so wildlife doesn’t become dependent on human food. Animals like bears may become aggressive in their search for people’s leftovers, and when it disappears, they may not know how to forage on their own.

Human garbage also doesn’t carry the nutrients animals finds in their natural diets.

More delicate animals like deer and elk get stressed when people or their dogs are near. Especially during the winter, when deer and elk are on a starvation diet, any contact with people burns the precious calories the animals are trying to preserve.

People unfamiliar with the High Country also don’t realize how susceptible the region is to fire.

Primarily in Summit and Eagle counties, where pine beetles are killing many of the area’s pine trees and leaving dry, brittle tinder, Forest Service rangers and firefighters are working with residents to fireproof their homes. But they’re discovering second home-owners are harder to find.

“Besides just contacting them, it’s harder to get them engaged and concerned,” Wettstein said. “They just don’t see the real problem.”

But Tom Wiesen, co-owner and lead guide of Trailwise Guides, a Vail Valley guide service, said the Forest Service is at fault.

“The government, at this point, has let it go, so private property owners may not be able to get as much cooperation as they might like” when trying to alleviate the pine beetle problem in their neck of the woods, he said.

Jon Asper, chief of the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District, said second home-owners are financially compelled to protect their homes from fire.

“More of the big homes have caretakers, expensive sprinkler systems,” Asper said. “They’ve got to be responsible because their insurance is so high if they don’t.”

Environmentalists say the houses near public open space, forests or wilderness start taking a toll on the environment even before anyone moves into them. It starts as soon as construction begins. Roads, gas and electric lines, water and sewer pipes all need to be constructed ” at a price. Installing these necessities disrupts the soil, causes erosion and adds damaging sand and dirt to the rivers.

“Wetlands, riparian areas and areas by streams are the most fragile,” said Ryan Demmy Bidwell of Colorado Wild. “And high elevations don’t recover as well because of their short growing seasons.”

Building in remote areas can also disrupt wildlife, he said.

“Development can create a wall through which animals don’t like to move,” he said.

Demmy Bidwell said the proposed Ginn Company development in Minturn ” which includes a private ski resort, luxury homes and golf course ” will act as a detrimental wildlife barrier.

But developers said they’re trying to either minimize or mitigate the impact of building. Pat Donovan, of Vail Resorts Development Co. -” which is developing Red Sky Ranch, Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch in Eagle County ” said in Red Sky Ranch, builders erected homes around a wildlife corridor to allow room for the animals. But environmentalists say the sheer proximity of homes to animals is bad for wildlife.

As the population in ski towns continues to expand, some groups are working to educate new home owners to make their presence as benign as possible.

Donovan said homeowners are given binders of information about their neighborhoods.

Residents of Red Sky Ranch know they can’t put a toe on certain trails in the winter because the wildlife needs some peace and quiet. All home-owners are also issued bear-proof garbage cans.

In Bachelor Gulch, the homeowner’s association is working to get all trash service on one day to cut down the number of days trash is on the curb, said Christina Schleicher, spokeswoman for Beaver Creek Resort. Schleicher and Donovan said so far the efforts seem to be working.

“I haven’t seen a lot of problems,” Donovan said. “People buy here because they enjoy the outdoor experience, so most of them have a good understanding of what they have to do. Everyone here is pretty much … living in harmony.”

Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or

Vail, Colorado

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