White River National Forest withdraws support services from two Eagle County campgrounds

Federal property makes up most of Eagle County's land area. The federal Payment In Lieu of Taxes program provides money to counties to help pay for local government operations.
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EAGLE COUNTY — The White River National Forest is facing a number of too-much or too-little scenarios.

Too much maintenance, too little staffing. Too much wind, too little snow. Too many volunteers, too few supervisors.

Eagle Holy Cross District Ranger Aaron Mayville addressed this dichotomy with the Eagle County commissioners last week, discussing the summer water outlook, planned campground closures and other Forest Service issues that directly affect locals and visitors.

Fire outlook

Mayville launched his presentation with a topic that’s generating lots of regional talk — the fire outlook for 2018.

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“We are really heavily into monitoring right now,” Mayville said.

Snowpack figures lagged behind the 30-year average for the 2017-18 ski season, and as temperatures warm, locals are concerned about increased fire danger.

Mayville said it’s still too early to make fire predictions. This spring could still see above-average rainfall, for example.

“Snowpack is just one metric. It’s an important one, but it is only one,” Mayville said.

But Mayville is anticipating an early dry out, and the Eagle Holy Cross District is staffed at its full level as summer approaches.

“There are no fire restrictions as of yet, but we are starting conversations,” he said. “One way or another, we are prepared.”

Campground closures

As its budget tightens, the Eagle Holy Cross District is considering the sustainability of its campground facilities.

“This is the year we are going to have to change some things because of sustainability,” Mayville said.

The local Forest Service office has opted to withdraw support services and maintenance at two of its campgrounds. At the Coffee Pot Campground, the Forest Service is pulling out services, including the restroom facilities, and converting the area to a “dispersed camping” site.

The White Owl Campground also will be closed, in large part because of concerns regarding a possible breach of a nearby dam.

“Those two campgrounds, in particular, get really low use,” Mayville said. “But it’s not our favorite news to share when we have to pull back on services.”

In the future, such bad news could hit closer to home for Eagle area residents, Mayville said. The Eagle-Holy Cross District is also looking at the long-term sustainability of the Yeoman Park and Fulford campgrounds.

While those facilities will be open this summer, their future is uncertain.

“We are trying to get creative about doing these things,” Mayville said, noting the Forest Service is reaching out to Colorado Parks and Wildlife to see if the state agency can take over maintenance of the East Brush Creek area because it manages Sylvan Lake State Park along West Brush Creek.

Additional staff?

As things stand now, the local Forest Service district has only one ranger tasked with overseeing all campground operations, Mayville said.

“Our economy here is recreation and tourism,” Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry said. “It would be a huge loss to the county and the town of Eagle to lose those campgrounds.”

She asked if the county or local municipalities would be allowed to supply funding for additional staff for the Eagle Holy Cross District. If so, then she proposed bringing the issue up at the next Eagle County mayor and manager meeting.

Ranger Brendan Kelly noted that the issue isn’t as simple having people offer to help.

“We have a lot of requests for volunteer projects, but we don’t always have the staff to manage that,” he said.

Additional paid staff would bring an increased Forest Service presence to both campgrounds and dispersed camping locations, Mayville said.

“Do you see many people living in the forest as a housing solution?” Chandler-Henry asked.

“Yes, we do. We call it squatting,” Mayville said. “It a problem for a whole host of reasons.”

Those issues include fires, garbage and human waste, and Mayville said more Forest Service ranger patrols would be a big help in addressing forest squatting.

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