New law could help Vail-area forests |

New law could help Vail-area forests

Bob Berwyn
Summit correspondent
Summit County, CO Colorado
Bob Berwyn | Summit DailyGov. Bill Ritter chats with A-Basin chief Alan Henceroth Wednesday just before signing two bills. One is a forest health bill that pledges $2.5 million to help protect Summit County forests, and the other is a skier license plate bill that will help fund transportation projects in Colorado.

ARAPAHOE BASIN, Colorado ” Colorado must focus on conserving precious forest resources, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said Wednesday, as he signed a pair of bills that will support the state’s ski industry and provide resources for wildfire protection and restoration.

“Forests drive our recreation and tourism,” Ritter said, adding that wood products can also play a role in the state’s emerging renewable energy economy. Equally important is to start thinking about long-term forest restoration, Ritter said as he signed a forest health bill that pledges $2.5 million to help protect high country forests.

The forest health bill will provide on-the-ground resources for protecting communities and key roads and watersheds from wildfire threats, said State Rep. Christine Scanlan, who represents both Eagle and Summit counties. She also pointed out that thousands of miles of roads, power lines and streams were at risk across the region and promised to highlight those threats while testifying before a congressional forest subcommittee this summer.

Lake Dillon Fire Protection District Chief Dave Parmley said the focus of the last few years has helped local firefighters improve their chances of safely evacuating residents in so-called red zones, where fire danger is highest.

Ritter credited State Sen. Dan Gibbs and Scanlan with carrying the new laws through the state Legislature. He said he wished he had brought his skis and revealed that he skied at A-Basin as often as any other area this past season.

Beyond Summit County, the national power grid is vulnerable across 2 million acres of beetle-killed forests. Thousands of miles of forest roads and hiking trails are also imperiled, and not just theoretically. In Summit County, parts of a popular trail in the Gore Range were obliterated by a blow-down of dead lodgepoles recently. As the infestation spreads, the threat of hazard trees grows along paths and even in campgrounds.

“I am proud of the significant work we did this session to protect Colorado from the devastating effects of forest fires,” Gibbs said. “Not only was I able to travel to Washington, D.C., to fight for federal support for Colorado’s wildfire projects, but I was also able to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle to make sure we are prepared when the next wildfire hits. These bills continue to preserve our safety, environment, and quality of life in Colorado, particularly for the 1 million Coloradans who live in forested areas.”

Gibbs thanked Ritter for coming up to A-Basin to sign the bills and praised the governor for prioritizing forest health issues.

He then turned his attention to the skier license plate and joked that he’d just as soon see a telemark skier on the new tags. The plates feature a skier and snowboarder emblazoned across a jagged mountain ridge. Several other state license plate features skiers, but Colorado’s will be the first to include a snowboarder, Gibbs said.

Colorado Ski Country USA director Melanie Mills said the new plates could generate tens of thousands of dollars the first few years. The money goes to the highway trust fund, and the Colorado Transportation Commission allocates the money. Some of it could theoretically help fund more snowplows for I-70, Mills said.

The plates cost $50 and can be ordered starting July 1. Mills said the public has been asking for the plates for decades. The new logo will give Colorado’s 500,000 active skiers and riders the chance to “fly the flag,” Mills said.

“I have nine ski resorts in my area and I know how integral these businesses are to Colorado’s economy, leisure and identity,” Gibbs said. “By creating this ski country license plate, people will be able to show their support for a very important part of Colorado.”

The state’s ski industry is coming off a challenging season, so the new tags could provide a morale boost going into next year. But even with the tough economy, several resorts saw skier visits remain relatively stable.

A-Basin officials said they’re on track for the second-highest skier total ever. Improvements made last summer, especially the underpass beneath Highway 6 and expanded parking, paid off for The Legend. Surveys showed a huge jump in satisfaction with parking availability, said resort spokeswoman Leigh Hierholzer.

Loveland spokesman John Sellers said his resort had its biggest season ever, spanning a 72-year history. Loveland reaped the benefits of being close to Denver, along with great snow ” 430 inches for the season.

Other ski areas with drive-to markets also held their own during the season, according to mid-point tallies by Colorado Ski Country.

The trade association is holding its annual meeting in Boulder June 10-12, when officials will release skier visits for the season.

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