New Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger stresses partnerships, stewardship
Leanne Veldhuis will start in July
The top job at the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District, based out of Minturn, is not an easy one.
The district is 652,000 acres and contains ranching, logging, small recreation, big recreation, wilderness areas, highly developed resort areas, and everything in between. It extends from Vail Pass to Tennessee Pass to Hanging Lake within the White River National Forest, which just happens to be the most visited forest within the entire National Forest system. The Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District also has more than 60 employees to manage.
All this creates the need for a plethora of good partnerships. New district manager Leanne Veldhuis — who was officially named to the position on June 10 and starts in mid July — says those partnerships are what she’s most excited about in taking the position. Before taking the job as the Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger, Veldhuis held the title of National Partnership Coordinator at the Forest Service’s National Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“In the last four years in the National Partnership office … the values I’ve formed around (the National Forest’s role in land management) are, regardless of the type of document that you might have that lets you be a player in public lands, whether its a permit or a grant or a cost-share agreement, I think all of those entitles bring a strong ability to impact public lands,” Veldhuis told the Vail Daily on Friday. “They may not be the federal land manager, but anyone who plays a role and is doing something on the land –— whether it’s a utility coordinator or an outfitter/guide — it’s important that everyone is bringing a sense of stewardship, and valuing the resource.”
Veldhuis will join the Eagle-Holy Cross ranger district during a period of flux in the area.
The recent addition of a trail adoption program through a ranger district partnership with the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance has allowed for the creation of new trails within the district for the first time in more than a decade. The Everkrisp Trail, connecting EagleVail to Minturn, became the first new official trail in the area following the Adopt a Trail program.
Implementation of the district’s travel management plan continues to reveal new regulations which require changing of local habits, including the Berry Creek Trail being closed to mountain bikers until May 21 each year. The trail saw use from thousands of mountain bikers prior to the official opening this year.
While Vail Resorts has postponed the plan for now, Beaver Creek ski area is expected to see an expansion into previously undeveloped terrain soon, with two new chairlifts and 17 trails. Vail Mountain also completed an expansion with a new surface lift and three new trails during the 2019-20 season, which will require coordination with the Forest Service regarding public access in future years.
And the upcoming decision whether to allow a paved road through Forest Service property for the Berlaimont Estates development has been a contentious issue, receiving more than 700 comments during the Forest Service’s comment periods in 2018 and 2019. The decision is expected to occur during Veldhuis’ term as district ranger.
White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams says Veldhuis is the right person to handle it all. Veldhuis was selected after a nationwide search which took months.
“She will be a great fit for the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District,” Fitzwilliams said. “Leanne brings the experience of working on high visitation, complex forests and of working at multiple levels of the Forest Service.”
‘The people aspect’
While the description of a Forest Service worker may bring to mind images of the ranger walking the trail, alone and in tune with nature, Veldhuis says most of her hikes will have to be done with other people as she has a lot of catching up to do regarding local relationships.
“Everyone is so excited about the area, and their experience with it,” she said. “The people aspect, and who I’m going to meet, my new team, and just getting plugged into a new experience will be really rejuvenating.”
A road biker, kayaker, rock climber and skier, Veldhuis also looks forward to the recreation available in the area. Before moving to Washington D.C., she worked in the Zigzag Ranger District of Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon, which enjoys the longest lift-served ski season in North America at Timberline Lodge.
Veldhuis was a permit administrator for Timberline Lodge.
“That was really fun,” she said. “There were a lot of folks involved in the ski area management there, just like in Eagle/Holy Cross. The whole team effort … is something I personally love to do.”
Veldhuis said she sees ski areas as a way for people to form a connection to the National Forest.
“I think they’re some of our best partners in communicating what our forest has to offer, in a way that can get folks out experiencing it,” she said.
Veldhuis sums up her prediction what awaits her in Eagle County in two words.
“I think it’s going to be intense,” she said. “And fun.”
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VAIL — The lift operator in the maze at Vail Village’s Gondola One tilts his head back and hollers: “Masks up please!”