Watch for dead trees, Vail Valley campers |

Watch for dead trees, Vail Valley campers

Sarah Mausolf
Vail, CO Colorado
Aspen Times file photoApproaching the Gore Range, airborne observers can see the signs of the spreading effect of the mountain pine beetle infestation, which inhibits the tree's ability to nourish itself, causing the needles to turn red before they fall off.

VAIL – When Vail resident Clay Walberg camps this summer, he’ll avoid clusters of dead trees.

“You don’t want to set up a tent in the middle of the beetle kill trees because that would be a rude awakening to have one fall on top of you,” he said.

Campers should be especially careful this year when it comes to bark beetle-infested trees, forest officials say.

Trees have been dead longer and, as a result, pose a greater risk of falling down, said Jan Burke, forest health coordinator for the White River National Forest that surrounds the Vail Valley.

“Folks are going to have to be a little more aware of where they’re sleeping in the backcountry,” she said.

The beetle infestation started ramping up in Eagle County in 2004, so in some areas, trees may have been dead for five to seven years, Burke said.

“When they die, they dry out and become somewhat brittle,” she said. “A high wind can break them or push them over.”

Trees that have turned grey and shed their needles are especially dangerous, Burke said.

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.

Because more money is going toward beetle kill projects, the local ranger districts in Eagle and Minturn have less money to hire seasonal employees, officials said.

Lynn Espersen, support services specialist for the Eagle Holy Cross Ranger District, said she expects the offices to hire about half as many seasonal employees as in past years. Most likely, there wont’ be as many seasonal employees devoted to trails or recreation, she said, adding the details have not yet been worked out.

The beetle kill funds are earmarked for a variety of upcoming projects, including removing infested trees along road and trails in Eagle and Summit counties, Burke said.

Meanwhile, contractors plan to clear beetle-killed trees from a large swath of the White River National Forest north of Vail this summer.

The land in question spans just over 1,000 acres along Red Sandstone and Red and White Mountain roads, about 10 miles northwest of Vail, said Carey Green, timber management assistant for the local ranger districts. Nearly 100,000 trees are set for removal, mainly lodgepole pines, he said.

Mike Orndorff, a spokesman for the Montrose-based contractor Intermountain Resources, expects to start removing those trees in June and wrap up in November. He hopes to clear about half of the trees this summer, or roughly 50,000 trees.

That project won’t affect the most popular camping areas along Piney River, Green said. However, it may close a few dispersed campsites along Red Sandstone Road for about a month at a time during weekdays, he said.

Walberg, who works as a sales associate for Bag n’ Pack in Vail, said he’s glad the Forest Service is doing something about beetle-killed trees.

“There are certain trails down in Minturn that people aren’t even hiking because the trees have been falling down so much,” he said.

Green said it’s likely beetle-infested tree removal will begin this summer on 187 acres northwest of Minturn, where about 38,600 trees are slated for removal, he said. That means hikers could be sharing the Forest Service Road 733 with logging trucks on weekdays. Green said he expects contractors to start work in late June and end in mid-October.

Another project in the same vicinity northwest of Minturn covers 75 acres and nearly 13,000 trees. That project could begin in June and wrap up by August. Helicopters will remove the beetle-ravaged trees because the land is too hard to access with logging trucks, Green said. Trails in the West Grouse Creek and Martin Creek areas could close for a few weeks while that work takes place, he said.

Other tree removal projects along Tigiwon Road and north of Vail could begin in the summer of 2011, Orndorff said.

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

Support Local Journalism