Matterhorn meadow now a lumberyard as part of Vail Intermountain Fuels Project

Timber affected by the mountain pine beetle is stacked in the Matterhorn area of Vail near a machine called a stroke delimber, which is used to prepare logs for transport. The Matterhorn area is being used as a staging ground for logs removed from nearby forests via helicopter as part of the $1.1 million Vail Intermountain Fuels Project.
John LaConte | |

VAIL — While there was quite a hurry to get them there, the logs in the Matterhorn neighborhood are now being moved on a much slower schedule.

Residents can expect the large piles of pine and spruce to remain in place for a couple of weeks yet, as crews load the logs onto trucks and transport them to other areas of the state. Some of those trucks, such as the ones headed to the town of Whitewater south of Grand Junction this week, can only make one trip per day, as the process is quite time consuming.

The massive piles of wood in the Matterhorn staging area are the result of a helicopter transport operation that took place during the past six weeks or so. That was the part of the operation where time was money, as helicopter logging isn’t cheap.

The $600,000 effort resulted in enough logs to produce 200,000 board feet of timber, which were moved from the Intermountain area of Vail to the staging meadow in nearby Matterhorn. Those logs will now go toward making homes — about 20 2,000-square-foot homes can be constructed with the wood. They’ll also go toward products such as firewood, heating pellets and dimensional lumber.

“They’ll all get put to a productive use,” said Vail Fire & Emergency Services Chief Mark Novak.

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In addition to the Whitewater runs, logs also will be sent to a mill in Rifle. The Rifle runs can accommodate two or three truckloads per day.


Novak said once the Matterhorn area is cleared out, Vail Fire & Emergency Services will burn the material that’s left on the meadow before reseeding the area.

“By next spring, it will look like nothing happened,” he said.

Nothing, save the fact that the surrounding areas will be much safer if a wildfire occurs, Novak said. And Novak said it’s not a question of if, but when.

“It’s going to pay off someday,” he said. “This helps us choose the type of fire we will have when we do have a fire.”

The types of fires they don’t want to have are the kinds that have been raging across the Western United States this fall, known as crown fires. Crown fires take place at the canopy level of the forest and can be impossible to put out once they ignite. By removing spruce and pine and repopulating the area with aspen, Vail dramatically reduces its chances of seeing a crown fire, Novak said.

“Fire can burn through an aspen grove, but it typically doesn’t burn through as a crown fire,” Novak said. “When you have these continuous stands of pine and spruce, especially when you have a lot of dead mixed in there, you can have a crown fire, and when a fire is burning as a crown fire, there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop it until it stops burning as a crown fire and drops back down to the ground.”


Another element of Vail’s fire fuel-reduction effort, known as the Vail Intermountain Fuels Project, is to protect homes by reducing the chance of fire brands, or debris from fire that can fly into residential areas.

“Most homes that ignite, ignite from fire brands,” Novak said. “They don’t ignite from a wall of flames locking up against the side of a building like you might assume.”

Nevertheless, the most important thing homeowners can do to protect their houses against wildfire is to manage their own properties.

“It’s great to do that work in the woods around the community and create those fuel breaks, but it’s every bit as important for people to do the work immediately around their houses,” Novak said. “That’s that first 30 feet of space — the defensible space — around the house. Make sure trees aren’t too close to the house, clear out materials that can ignite — whether it be dead vegetation or other items they’re storing in their yard — cut grasses down so they’re not too high, thin the brush, all those activities are just as important as us removing logs up on the hillside.”


The Vail Intermountain Fuels Project is a $1.1 million effort that started in 2013 with a $300,000 feasibility study and environmental analysis from the U.S. Forest Service. The helicopter portion of the operation cost $600,000, and the rest will go toward moving the logs out of and cleaning up the Matterhorn staging area.

The fuels project has been coordinated by the White River National Forest, the Colorado State Forest Service and Vail Fire & Emergency Services and is being funded by the town of Vail and the U.S. Forest Service, with additional funding assistance provided by Eagle County and The Nature Conservancy. The project is possible due to the support and cooperation of the White River National Forest’s Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District, The Nature Conservancy, the National Forest Foundation, Vail Resorts, Eagle County, the town of Vail, the Colorado State Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

For more information on the Vail Intermountain Fuels Project, contact Paul Cada with Vail Fire & Emergency Services at 970-477-3475 or email

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