Gypsum weighs in on proposal to help fund local U.S. Forest Service efforts
GYPSUM — White River National Forest is a really big deal, nationally and locally.
The White River as a whole is the most-visited forest in the nation, and the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District is a vital part of the Colorado high country landscape and economy. The local ranger district encompasses 704,000 acres and is home to both wilderness areas and world-class ski resorts.
But during the summer, there is one seasonal employee tasked with supervising all camping, trailhead and enforcement issues districtwide. Obviously, the budget to care for the local district isn’t nearly as expansive as the forest itself.
But for the past month or so, Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger Aaron Mayville has been floating the idea of raising dollars locally to support district priorities. Last week, this outreach effort brought him to Gypsum.
At the beginning of the 2018 summer camping season, Mayville shared news about plans to close the Coffee Pot and White Owl campgrounds in the Flattops area.
“A district ranger’s nightmare is closing things. It’s not what we want to do,” Mayville told the Gypsum council on Tuesday, Aug. 28. “The reality of it was funding. Coffee Pot and White Owl were our highest-cost, lowest-use facilities.”
But when presented with the news about the imminent closures, last spring the Eagle County commissioners urged Mayville to come up with an alternative. They suggested he develop a proposal outlining what he could do with extra funding if local governments were willing to foot the bill. That’s what he did, and during the past few weeks, Mayville has presented those figures to eight different entities.
According to Mayville, with an additional $149,000, he could hire one permanent supervisory employee and three additional seasonal employees. He said that additional manpower would mean more developed campground support, dispersed camping coverage, trailhead support, volunteer program supervision, wildlife closure enforcement, fire restriction enforcement and visitor education.
“I have all this work to do, and I have one guy, Steve, to manage it all,” Mayville said.
While they weren’t unsympathetic, Gypsum council members were leery about the idea of earmarking money for the Forest Service.
“How I see the Forest Service right now is it’s a bureaucratic nightmare that can’t get out of its own way. How will this help?” asked council member Chris Estes. Ultimately, to make a program work, the local entities and the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District would develop a contract that stipulates money contributed locally would be earmarked for the local forest.
“We don’t want to involve Washington, D.C., if we don’t have to,” Mayville said. He noted that the idea of augmenting USFS funding with local dollars is a unique idea.
“My counterparts around the country don’t have communities that are as supportive,” Mayville said. “This idea has been well received at every stop I have made.”
As they discussed the idea of contributing dollars and closed campgrounds, Gypsum officials noted their desire to have the USFS expand its services to the newly renovated LEDE Reservoir area, which is located on Forest Service property.
LEDE Reservoir, a popular recreational site located 18 miles south of town, reopened last fall after it had been closed to the public since 2013 so the town could rehabilitate and enlarge the site. The previous dam at the site was classified as a high-hazard structure.
The LEDE site is actually a prehistoric glacial lake, and after an expansion in the 1940s, the site became a popular camping spot. Back in 2005, with estimates projecting large growth in the community, the town of Gypsum purchased the LEDE storage capacity. While the Forest Service still owns the reservoir site, the town owns the water in it.
But there are no USFS services at LEDE — no vaulted toilets or campground maintenance.
“We have worked with and heard from the town for years now that it’s (LEDE Reservoir campground planning) something that’s important to you. But I just don’t have the money to get to it,” Mayville said. “Every community has something like a LEDE Reservoir.”
Town officials noted they have previously offered to have Gypsum construct the improvements and do maintenance at LEDE, and Mayville noted a concession contract that would formalize that offer would be the next step.
For now, however, Mayville asked the council to ponder the funding idea. He said the issue would be further vetted by the county’s mayors and managers group to determine if it is feasible.
“This isn’t a budget request tonight. It’s more just putting something on your radar,” Mayville concluded.
Facing traffic woes and oncoming growth, officials are looking at road improvements.