Wind takes toll on trees around Aspen, the valley
ASPEN – Hikers and bikers will have to deal with more wind-blown trees than usual blocking trails in the mountains around Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale this spring, a forest ranger said Wednesday.
“It’s been a windy year. I think [forest] visitors are going to encounter more blowdown,” said Martha Moran, a recreation manager and planner with the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. “Some trails are not going to get cleared like they have been in recent years.”
Windfall is something outdoor adventurers deal with every summer, but this spring was particularly windy so the problem is pronounced. For example, Moran said gusty winds during a May 22 storm blew down stands of aspens in the upper Castle Creek Valley, south of Aspen. That storm likely blew down more trees than usual on popular trails such as those to American and Cathedral lakes.
The caretakers at Grizzly Reservoir reported to Moran that they carry a chainsaw with them to negotiate Lincoln Creek Road because windfall is so frequent.
Trail crews work feverishly through the late spring and summer to clear downed trees off the numerous routes in the sprawling ranger district, which stretches from Marble to Independence Pass and from the Maroon Bells to Basalt Mountain. They target the most popular routes first. This year, the crews won’t get to some heavily used areas as quickly as they have in the past, Moran said, because the focus has been altered.
The U.S. Forest Service has placed a big emphasis on removing hazard trees from lands in Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota. Standing dead or dying trees that have been killed by bark beetles or disease are considered hazard trees; they pose a threat of falling without warning.
Eagle, Summit, Routt, Grand and Jackson counties have been hit hardest by the bark beetle, which has killed hundreds of thousands of lodgepole pines, according to the website for the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain region. But a map of beetle infestation in Colorado shows mountain pine beetle, spruce beetle, or both, have infiltrated Pitkin County. An area that includes the Hunter Creek Valley was infested.
The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District plans to remove hazard trees this summer that could fall onto the trails and roads in the Hunter Creek Valley and areas to the north, such as Four Corners and Van Horn Park.
“It is our number one priority,” Moran said.
That will inevitably divert the attention of the summer trail crews, she said.
Forest Service crews are inventorying the Hunter Creek Valley near Aspen to assess what trees need to be removed. Jon Thompson, trails crew supervisor, said the inventory so far shows that the density of hazard trees ranges from a low of 100 per mile along the Hunter Creek Trail in the valley floor to a high of 700 per mile on trails in the Four Corners region.
Hazard trees will be removed from roughly 30 miles of trails in the Hunter Creek area, Thompson said. The Forest Service hopes to clear hazards from at least 12 miles of trails this year. All told, it will require cutting down thousands of dead and dying trees in the greater Hunter Creek Valley, he said.
About 50 percent of the hazard trees in the Hunter Creek Valley are aspens, Thompson said. There are also some beetle kill lodgepole pine trees and some sub-alpine fir that pose risks.
Thompson said the Forest Service trails crew will tackle tree removal when possible. Other, more experienced Forest Service crews will be brought in for tougher jobs, for instance when the density of hazard trees is greater. In some cases, the job will be contracted out.
He agreed with Moran’s assessment that the removal of hazard trees in the Hunter Creek Valley will be trail crews’ primary focus. However, crews are already hitting trails to remove trees. They removed roughly 40 trees from the Braderich Creek trail in the Crystal Valley, south of Carbondale, on Wednesday.
Moran said removing trees from trails in the Maroon Bells area will also be a priority because it is so heavily visited. Other popular routes, like those on Basalt Mountain and the Arbaney Kittle trail, will have to wait longer than usual to be cleared, she said.
An overview of the Forest Service’s effort to remove hazard trees can be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/, then look for the link for Regional Bark Beetle Information.