Valley Voices column: Our natural treasures matter to people
As disappointing as it was to see the recent graffiti along the Hanging Lake trail last week, it did help to highlight an important local truth: Colorado’s natural treasures really matter to people.
The response to our press release was incredible — numerous media outlets from all across the state picked up the story, dozens of emails, phone calls and text messages came in with tips and leads and countless comments on social media underlined just how much people value Hanging Lake. And while it seems the attention is most often given to the vandals and the rule-breakers, it’s the responsible visitor to the National Forests that make up the overwhelming majority and they deserve our consideration and gratitude.
The proximity and access to the natural environment, and the accompanying recreational and professional pursuits, are the reason that many of us have chosen to live in the Rockies. As the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District encompasses more than 55 percent of Eagle County and portions of Garfield, Routt and Pitkin counties, I am humbled to manage lands that hold such value and importance to the local communities. Of course, the skiing, mountain biking, hiking and snowmobiling are world-class, but local U.S. Forest Service land also provides timber to Colorado mills, forage to wildlife and domestic sheep and cattle, fuel to Gypsum’s biomass plant and supports more than 14,000 local jobs. It’s for these, and many other reasons, that the White River National Forest sees more visitors than any other National Forest in the nation — upwards of 13 million — and is positioned to see that number grow in coming years.
Throughout the past several years, Hanging Lake has been a nexus for people’s desire to get outside and enjoy their public lands and the Forest Service’s struggle to find the budget and staffing to keep up with the demand. The summer of 2013 saw a marked rise in Hanging Lake traffic backing up onto Interstate 70, damage to the trail infrastructure, turmoil in the parking lot and a host of other issues that accompany overcrowding. As a result, the Forest Service spearheaded the formation of a stakeholder group charged with rectifying the issues.
I’m proud to say that my office, along with the Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado State Patrol, city of Glenwood Springs, Garfield County Sheriff, U.S. Department of Transportation and Xcel Energy, has remained committed to those goals and has met monthly since the group’s formation. We’ve implemented signage changes, more efficiently managed the parking and turnaround areas, began staffing the site in the summers and collected important survey and usage data.
This work has culminated in a long-term Hanging Lake Management Plan, which we are primed to roll out to the public in the coming months. While years of work have gone into making this management plan a reality, and implementation is not planned until the summer of 2018, I do hope to hear your thoughts and comments on the plan when it’s released.
The successful partnerships reflected in the Hanging Lake stakeholder group and the community response to the recent vandalism are two great examples of how effectively a community can come together around a common love for our public places. And while Hanging Lake remains one of Colorado’s natural treasures, nearly every one of us has a special place on public land that we cherish and want to see protected for future generations to enjoy.
As my staff and I endeavor to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District, we will continue to do so in partnership and collaboration with our local communities and with those who visit responsibly. I am grateful to live and work amongst such supporters of public lands and look forward to tacking future challenges together. As always, thank you for your interest in the management of your National Forest.
Aaron Mayville is District Ranger for the U.S. Forest Service Eagle and Holy Cross Ranger Districts. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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