Hut stirs backcountry passions in Eagle Valley | VailDaily.com
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Hut stirs backcountry passions in Eagle Valley

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

TENNESSEE PASS, Colorado ” The 10th Mountain Hut Association wants to build a new backcountry hut near Tennessee Pass, but some say the project will ruin what is one of the few untouched patches of wilderness in the area.

The plan would put two new buildings for backcountry trips in Jone’s Gulch, which is owned by the U.S. Forest Service. The area is between Camp Hale and Ski Cooper and home to endangered Canada lynx and elk.

The proposal is in public review, meaning residents have until March 25 to tell the Forest Service what they think. After that, the comments and environmental studies before will be reviewed before a decision is made.

Area resident and backcountry guide Tom Weisen said he wants to “keep wild land wild.”

“It’ll trash that place and cut through the streams. Basically it’s on very beautiful, very pristine land that is very wild,” he said.

He also does not like the idea of using public land that is a sensitive wildlife habitat for the huts.

“It sets a dangerous precedent for development in our valley. It’s on public land,” he said. “When are they going to stop building huts? When every valley has huts in it?”

The Tennessee Pass area is getting crowded with snowmobilers and dogsledders, and a new hut would bring hundreds more people, said Weisen.

Hut Association Executive Director Ben Dodge said that while those concerns are valid, the hut would not cause as much damage as some think.

The hut would only be open in the winter, and construction and maintenance would only be done in late summer to cause the least amount of disturbance to elk herds, he said.

Studies show the hut would not disturb nearby streams, and an existing road in the area means they would not have to build one, said Dodge.

But Tennessee Pass resident Marjorie Westermann said it is inevitable that wildlife will be disturbed once people move into the area.

“Colorado isn’t as big as people think, and the wildlife are losing out,” she said.

The 10th Mountain Division Association operates 29 backcountry huts for backcountry skiers, hikers and mountain bikers. Of the huts, 14 are on Forest Service land.

The site, which the Hut Association has had its eye on since 1998, would be an ideal connection to another hut, Vance’s Cabin, said Ben Dodge.

With the new hut, backcountry users be able to do “linked hut trips” going to both of the huts. Also, Jones Gulch is closer to the trail head than Vance’s Cabin, and the trek there would be a much easier trip.

“This would make the distance shorter, and more people could do it and have that experience,” Dodge said.

Also, Vance’s Cabin is on privately owned land, and the Hut Association cannot ensure it will always be a part of the hut system if the surrounding land is developed.

“We hope to keep it in our system forever, but we can’t control that,” Dodge said.

The Forest Service’s environmental impact study shows a hut would “like adversely affect” the lynx in the area.

The damage to lynx would be “more than minimal,” but could be worse, said Dave VanNorman, recreation staff with the White River National Forest.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the study, and public comments need to be heard before a decision is made, he said.

Dodge said he understands the concerns for the land, but he thinks allowing more people to have access will actually help preserve it.

“People care about the area up there, and we understand that. People have a passion for that area, and we feel the same way. Providing people the opportunity to experience that area increases the likelihood that they will want to protect it,” he said.

The public has until Mar. 25 to submit comments to the U.S. Forest Service.

Send comments by mail to:

Brian Lloyd, District Ranger

US Forest Service

P.O. Box 190

Minturn, CO 81645

Or via e-mail to:

comments-rocky-mountain-white-river-eastzone@fs.fed.us.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.


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