Eagle County, local towns are being asked to help fund Forest Service operations
By the numbers
67: Developed campsites on the Eagle Holy Cross Ranger District. Other campsites are managed by private companies.
500: Dispersed campsites.
30: Trailheads close to Interstate 70.
1: Staff member to patrol those campsites and trailheads.
Source: Eagle Holy Cross Ranger District
VAIL — Around the country, parent-teacher groups help schools pay for extras. It may be time for a similar group to help the local U.S. Forest Service pay for essentials.
At the Vail Town Council’s afternoon meeting on Tuesday, July 17, council members heard a presentation — and an early request for money — from Eagle Holy Cross District Ranger Aaron Mayville. The presentation laid out the challenges of managing the 704,000-acre district, which runs from the top of Vail Pass to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area and into Glenwood Canyon.
The list of challenges starts with funding.
In 2008, the Forest Service budget was $270,000 for what it calls the “Front Country Recreation Program.” This program helps manage campgrounds, dispersed campsites and trails. That budget 10 years ago funded a full-time law enforcement officer, two full-time recreation field supervisors, four seasonal staff members and supplies and vehicles for those employees.
In 2018, that budget has dropped to roughly $40,000, which pays for one seasonal employee — Steve Getz — supplies and a vehicle. Much of the lost revenue has gone instead to firefighting throughout the national forest system.
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In that decade, recreational use has only increased, putting a lot of pressure on the district office.
Funding the feds
In response, mayors and town managers from around the county have talked with Mayville about the prospect of providing local funding to help rebuild staffing.
Vail Town Manager Greg Clifton on Tuesday told council members that the mayors and managers group has prepared an outline of local support that towns and Eagle County may consider as those governments are planning their 2019 budgets.
Under the mayor and manager group’s proposal, an annual appropriation of $149,000 would pay for a permanent supervisor, three seasonal employees, support for developed campgrounds and covering dispersed camping areas, trailhead support and other enforcement and education projects.
Council member Travis Coggin noted that, in fact, $230,000 would get the district office back up to 2008 levels. Council member Jenn Bruno also voiced support for building funding back to 2008 levels.
While supportive of the idea of local funding for the district, council member Greg Moffet said the request is a reflection of poor federal priorities.
‘Shame on D.C.’
“This situation sucks for you,” Moffet said to Mayville. “And shame on (Washington, D.C.). We’re being asked to use local tax dollars for federal land that’s not in our jurisdiction.”
The problem, Moffet added, is that once local funding supplants federal money, locals will pay those bills in perpetuity.
But, Moffet added, local funding is almost a necessity.
“We don’t have a choice,” he said. “We’re being blackmailed by the federal government.”
Moffet wondered why Eagle County’s congressional delegation — Reps. Jared Polis and Scott Tipton and Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet — haven’t been more vocal about funding public lands in Colorado.
Since the local funding would help pay for a certified law enforcement officer in the ranger district, Moffet asked if perhaps the towns of Vail, Avon and Eagle, along with the Eagle County Sheriff’s office, could take on that responsibility instead.
Mayville said those arrangements are fairly common.
Council members agreed that having Getz on his own out in the forest is a potentially dangerous situation.
Mayor Dave Chapin said despite his discomfort with arming people for enforcement, that’s probably a necessary step.
Mayville said beyond catching up with essential work out in the field — from enforcement of fire bans to trash clean up — additional staff would allow people in the district office to work more on long-term planning. That planning includes a management plan for Booth Lake and work on ways to reduce impacts to streams and provide better visitor experiences.
Beyond local government funding, Moffet asked if perhaps a nonprofit foundation could be created to handle some of the work. Council member Kim Langmaid noted there are local chapters of the National Forest Foundation. That’s a possibility here, she said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com and 970-748-2930.