Vail-area forest officials assessing flood damage
By Sarah Mausolf
EAGLE COUNTY – Forest Service staff are still getting a handle on the flood damage in the local wilderness.
Stream surges recently washed out a bridge, clogged culverts and possibly sparked a landslide in the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District. The district covers a wide swath of the White River National Forest in Eagle County.
The Lower Cross Creek Bridge washed 60 yards downstream, trails program manager Don Dressler said. That bridge arched over a section of Cross Creek along the popular Cross Creek trail off Tigiwon road.
It could cost up to $40,000 to replace the bridge, Dressler said.
“Once the water levels get lower and it’s safe for our folks to get in there and assess the structure, we’ll determine whether we can salvage some of the existing bridge to reduce that cost,” he said.
At the moment, no funding is available to fix the bridge, he said.
“We’re seeking emergency road and trail dollars but we’re not sure what the outcome of that will be,” he said.
Best case scenario, work could begin in late summer, he said. In the meantime, he suggests hikers contact the Forest Service for information about alternate routes bypassing the bridge.
Along with the bridge washing out, several pipes that pass under roads and trails are clogged with debris, Dressler said. Also, forest service staff planned Thursday to check out reports of a landslide on the Turret Creek Trail in the Flat Tops Wilderness.
In general, forest staff are waiting for high water levels to recede before they tackle repairs.
“We’re not going to put any of our crews at risk,” Dressler said.
Forest service staff has been checking out damage report tips as they come in.
“We’re kind of relying on the public to help us gauge what some of those effects are,” Dressler said.
The Forest Service has been trying to stretch its limited resources to fix the flood damage.
“It is a challenge for us,” Dressler acknowledged. “The majority of our resources are directed at bark beetle inventory and mitigation. Our emphasis is public safety along roads and trails and campgrounds, and that continues to be the case. We do have fewer resources available to deal with these emergency repairs.”
The federal government recently gave the White River National Forest $6 million for projects dealing with beetle-killed trees. White River National Forest officials redirected another $3.3 million from their operating budget for that work. That means local ranger districts in Eagle and Minturn had less money to hire seasonal employees for the summer, officials have said previously. This year, the district hired 17 seasonal employees, down from 31 last year.
Seasonal and permanent employees would typically tackle projects like the flood repair, Dressler said.
Within the White River National Forest as a whole, flood repairs are expected to cost $200,000 to $600,000, forest spokesman Pat Thrasher said. Most of the funding will come from Forest Service emergency funds, he said. The bulk of the repairs will be complete by early next month, he said. Workers have already finished a handful of the lesser jobs, Thrasher said.
Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or email@example.com.